INDIANAPOLIS – When asked late in the 2012 season if he were surprised at the level of Jerrell Freeman's play, Ryan Grigson did not bat an eye when he said "not in the least."
Freeman was one of Grigson's first-year "finds," and he set a franchise seasonal mark with 203 tackles.
One of six Colts to open every game a year ago, Freeman duplicated that accomplishment in 2013 by being one of seven such players answering 16 starting bells.
In producing a second straight 100-tackle season (169), Freeman joins Andrew Luck, Antoine Bethea and Anthony Castonzo (all draft picks) as the Colts' lone 32-game starters over the last two years.
COLTS 16-GAME STARTERS 2012-13
Dwayne Allen, Antoine Bethea, Anthony Castonzo, Jerrell Freeman, Andrew Luck, Mike McGlynn
Antoine Bethea, Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus, Vontae Davis, Jerrell Freeman, Andrew Luck, Robert Mathis
"We saw some guys this year start to ascend from good to great," said Grigson. "We strive to have championship level players throughout our roster. I think Jerrell Freeman ascended his level of play.
"There were guys who showed some great flashes and they were going in the right direction."
Freeman has been a performance model almost literally from the outset when he returned an interception for a touchdown on the fourth play of his career.
After becoming the first undrafted player in franchise history to have a scoring interception return in a career debut, Freeman topped the team in tackles in each of his first seven games and cracked double-digits in stops frequently.
Freeman slowed not a bit in 2013, leading the team in tackles in 10 outings and amassing 12 games with double-digit totals.
He now has 372 tackles, 7.5 sacks and five takeaways, leading the team in tackles in 23-of-32 games and with 25 contests with 10-plus stops.
JERRELL FREEMAN TWO-SEASON TOTALS
"There's no question," said Chuck Pagano when asked if there is no ceiling for Freeman's future. "He's a young player for us. He's only going to get better. He's going to become more familiar with the system, the terminology, the calls.
"You'd have to say (he's a game-changer) because he's making those plays. He's done it on a consistent basis. He's playing at a high level."
Freeman had strip-sacks in consecutive games against Miami and San Francisco, becoming the first Colts linebacker other than Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis to have takedowns in back-to-back outings since 2004.
A signature Freeman moment came two weeks later when he stopped Seattle's Golden Tate and Russell Wilson on consecutive plays after Indianapolis had taken a three-point fourth-quarter lead.
It was an open-field stop after a reception by Tate where Freeman showed his range, and the Wilson tackle was textbook form.
The stops forced a punt, and the Colts scored again to earn a 34-28 victory after a facing 12-point deficit.
"We had a pretty good team this year, (but) goals weren't met," said Freeman last week. "With our expectations, even with the one win in the playoffs, we wanted more.
"We know we could have done a lot better. (We're) just going to have to grow from it and move on. We have a young team."
Freeman said the finality of the New England playoff loss hit him "as the clock hit zero." He had played in Grey Cup games with Saskatchewan in two of three years prior to joining the Colts.
Post-season setbacks are harsh endings that can obscure accomplishments, and Freeman equated 2013 as a missed opportunity for a team that has won 23 times in its last 35 games.
Freeman fingered a couple of key plays in the New England game that took a seven-point margin in the fourth quarter to the eventual 43-22 final score.
Playing more soundly in brief moments could have swayed the outcome and allowed the Colts to advance. Advancing was the club's lone goal.
"How we feel around here is a successful year is a Super Bowl," said Freeman. "We have lofty expectations for ourselves, reachable goals. We felt we could have reached them this year, regardless of all the adversity we did face.
"You always look back and say, 'I wish I could have done this, or maybe I should have done that.' It's the NFL. You got to learn and grow from it. We're going to get better. We'll be back next year and we'll be alright."