UNFAMILIAR FOOTING

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is spending the off-season rehabilitating a Lisfranc foot injury that kept him out the last seven games of last season. He said on Sunday afternoon his rehabilitation is going well, and that he expects to return for training camp.

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Rehab Process Going Well and on Schedule, Freeney Says

INDIANAPOLIS - Whoever Dwight Freeney talks to, he gets the same messages.

Patience, he is told, is key. The situation will continue to improve, he is told. The best healer, he is told, is time.

And that, the Colts' three-time Pro Bowl defensive end said, is what is making his off-season so difficult.

Freeney, the Colts' all-time sacks leader, is spending the off-season rehabilitating a Lisfranc foot injury that kept him out the last seven games of last season. He said on Sunday afternoon his rehabilitation is going well, and that he expects to return for training camp.

He also said it's a struggle at times.

Mainly, he said, because what is necessary in the rehab doesn't exactly come naturally.

"I'm going to go out there and do what I do," Freeney said Sunday on the third day of the Colts' three-day 2008 veteran/rookie minicamp at the team's practice facility.

"It is a challenge because I'm not used to, 'Alright, Dwight, you have to take your time. You're not going to be 100 percent as soon as you get back out there.' If I'm running on the field, it's like, 'I'm ready to go now. I'm ready to cut now. I'm ready to do this bag drill now,' and they have to hold me back.

"It's different from that perspective, but as far as a mind state of me doing the spin move and things like that, when I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go. There's no holding back."

Freeney, entering his seventh NFL season, said Sunday he is running "around three times a week." He said he is doing a lot of straight-ahead running, focused on getting his form back.

He is among several Colts players dealing with off-season injuries who didn't practice during the three-day mini-camp. Others included safety Bob Sanders, middle linebacker Gary Brackett, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and guard Ryan Lilja.

"I think all of our guys have been very diligent with what they have to do," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Sunday. "It's probably a little frustrating not being out there on the field but they understand their role right now is to rehab."

And while Freeney said his rehab is "going good" and "on track," he also said, "It's a process."

"You have to understand every week is a new week," he said. "Just because it hurts on Tuesday doesn't mean it's going to hurt on Thursday. It's going good.

"I'm sure I'll be back for the preseason. Now, how much work, I don't know. They may hold me out for once a week, twice a week, I don't know. But I'll be out there."

Freeney, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, has 60 sacks in six NFL seasons, registering double-digit sacks in each of his first four NFL seasons – 13 in 2002, 11 in 2003, 16 in 2004 and 11 in 2005. He recorded three and a half sacks during the first nine games in 2007, consistently getting pressure despite double teams and extra attention from tight ends and running backs.

He finished the season with 34 tackles, 29 solos, and despite missing the last seven games of the season, led the Colts with 19 quarterback pressures.

He also forced four fumbles, and had a momentum-turning sack for safety in the Colts' 29-7 victory at Jacksonville on October 22.

Then, on a rainy night in San Diego, Freeney limped from the field late in the Colts' 23-21 loss to the Chargers. A few days later, he was placed on injured reserve.

"No one touched me," Freeney said. "It was really freakish. I did a spin move. My foot got caught in the ground. It was raining, I had the longer cleats in the front, and it just got stuck. That's unfortunate. There wasn't any guy.

"I actually thought someone stepped on my foot, and we looked at the film and it wasn't that. There was nothing I could (do). It was meant to happen. It was one of those things. It hadn't rained in I don't know how many days in San Diego, and I get the one rainy day.

"It was a drought until I got there."

Freeney spent the next few months beginning the rehabilitation process, and watching a struggling Colts pass rush. With defensive end Robert Mathis hampered with a knee injury the last month of the season, the Colts managed just one sack in the last three regular-season games and a Divisional Playoff loss to the Chargers in the RCA Dome.

"It killed me, just to sit there and watch – my boys out there performing and playing, playing hard," Freeney said. "Knowing that I could go out there and contribute and help, you never like to see that. It's hard enough for me to watch anything – I don't care, sideline, bench, wherever.

"But now I'm sitting at home yelling at the refs, yelling at all types of people, it's bad. But things happen for a reason. You never really know why they happen, but they happen."

The result was a vastly different off-season than the one following the previous season – for the Colts and for Freeney. A year before, the Colts beat the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI. The following April, the Colts visited the White House, then received their Super Bowl rings in a June ceremony in Indianapolis.

"We're doing victory tours – this, that, this place, this restaurant," Freeney said. "I think I might have had a little scope done, but it wasn't anything major. Now it's pretty much I'm here, rehabbing pretty much every single day.

"I have to get my foot back. I have to get back right."

Freeney said he wants to get more than his foot right. His goal, he said, is to enter the 2008 season not just healthy, but better than he was entering last season.

"I just want to make sure I work on, not only on my foot, but other things, too," he said. "The thing is, everything else got to rest up since November. I had other little nicks and whatever, which would probably still be lingering or just ending now if I would have played until February or January, but I haven't played since November. So everything else is good, I just have to get the foot right and get everything else right. . . .

"You can't let that thing sink in. It's a mental thing, too. It's not only physical, it's mental, so you have to really believe that you're going to be back 110 percent and better than you were before."

Freeney said he is fine mentally, and hasn't thought many negative thoughts during the process. He said, too, that the injury won't change his style.

"I haven't really thought about that other than it can be over in one play," he said. "I've always played the game pretty hard as it is, so it wasn't like one of those things where, 'Alright, every play could be your last one.' I guess now it's really that. But I'm still going to play how I've always played, play hard and with reckless abandon and do what I have to do."

Mostly, he said, he is working as patiently as he can. And while that's not easy, he has spoken to players who have sustained similar injuries, players such as New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, and former Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley.

"They say it's a process, and sometimes it's tough, but you'll break through," Freeney said. "When it's right it's going to be right. It's just something that takes time."

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