Colts Defensive End Dwight Freeney Focus of Super Bowl XLIV Media Day
MIAMI – Dwight Freeney walked through a gathered crowd of reers and camera crews, lowering himself behind a brightly-colored, Super Bowl XLIV-themed table.
Immediately, cameras rolled and questions came.
Freeney, the Colts' five-time Pro Bowl defensive end, answered each one as best he could at what he said was still a very early stage of Super Bowl week – and above all else, that was Freeney's message on Super Bowl Media Day.
This was Tuesday. Super Bowl XLIV is Sunday.
Doing the math, Freeney – who has been the biggest story in the first two days of Super Bowl week – said that means five days remain before the game, so that means five more days for his injured ankle to continue to heal.
That can be a lot of time, Freeney said, or it can be not much time. But Freeney said this much was certain when it comes to the question of how extensively and effectively he will be able to play Sunday:
Only time will tell.
"That's going to be a decision that's going to be later on in the week," Freeney said Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day at Sun Life Stadium, where the Colts (16-2) will play the New Orleans Saints (15-3) in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday evening.
"It's kind of early. This happened last week, so we definitely have some recovery to go. It's going to be a decision made by our coaching staff come Friday, maybe Saturday, (as to) how much time I'm actually going to be playing."
Freeney, who led the Colts with 13.5 sacks this season, sustained the injury – a grade three sprain in the lower ankle, the Colts have announced – late in the AFC Championship Game victory over the New York Jets on January 24 when he pulled up to avoid hitting Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Freeney missed practice last week and said he doubts he will practice this week, and Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Monday Freeney is day to day.
"He's a great player – obviously a very talented guy," Caldwell said. "There've been some guys from time to time that we've had to play without. If he can't go, it's kind of an old mantra that we've said time and time again; the next man is up."
Robert Mathis, like Freeney a Pro Bowl defensive end for the Colts the past two seasons, called Freeney, "My bookend."
"We have been going at it together for years and we will try to work it out," Mathis said, adding of potential double teams because of Freeney's situation, "It shouldn't change that much because we have been dealing with that pretty much for years now – chip blocks and double teams and all the things the (offense does)."
That was the reaction of Colts players Tuesday – that while Freeney is very, very important, the Colts this season have won despite season-ending injuries to cornerback Marlin Jackson, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and safety Bob Sanders.
"It's just what Coach Caldwell says, 'It's the next guy up,'' Colts defensive tackle Dan Muir said. "We have other talented defensive ends, too. You want Dwight Freeney out there, but if he wasn't able to go, we just have to go and pick up the bayonettes."
Said Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett, "It's always tough when you don't have one of your dogs out there with you. Dwight Freeney's a future Hall of Famer. He does a great job rushing the quarterback.
"We live by the mantra, 'next man up.' So if Dwight might not be able to go, we get the next guy in line and they have to go out and perform."
Freeney, for his part, said while he has been aware of the various reports and near-constant speculation about and analysis of his ankle, he has had little time to pay much attention.
"I've heard," Freeney said. "It's actually kind of crazy. I try to stay away from all the TV stuff and focus, but I've got like 80 text messages telling me 'You're all over the TV about the ankle, are you going to be ready to play?' I'm like, 'Listen, I'm, going to take it day-by-day, I don't know.'
"I wake up every single morning thinking I'm healed, and then I wake up and take that first step. I have a little bit more work to do, and I really just try to stay positive. That's all I really can do, try to get back for my team and see what I can do."
That constant focus, Freeney said, has made this year's Super Bowl experience substantially different than 2007, when he and the Colts made their first appearance of the Indianapolis era.
"To be honest with you, it really has been pretty boring," he said. "For me, pretty much 99 percent of my time, other than eating and sleeping, has been therapy and treating this injury. That has really been my main focus. I haven't really had a chance to take in all the events.
"This is my second time around, so that's really not important to me."
What is important is finding a way to play, and while only time will tell how much and how effectively he will play, Freeney said when Sunday comes, he can't picture himself not playing.
And if he does play, if he has to change his game a bit? How will that change things?
Again, he said, only time will tell.
"That's going to be something that I'm going to have to determine when I get on that field when I actually test it out," he said. "I don't know exactly how much mobility I will have. I don't know how much explosion I will have. That's really something that's going to have to be judged day-to-day. If I have to tweak my game, I've done it in the past where I've had injuries and I've had to tweak my game just a little bit to maybe protect it or go to whatever strength I have at that time.
"You just kind of have to freestyle it in the game."