Do not attempt to cramp Dwight's style.
First off, small editorial note: JakeTheSnake just started university, which means his schedule for late-August, early September will be a little out of whack. So, you might see his weekly "Know Your Colts History" column appearing on Saturdays for a few weeks. Eventually, Jake will get his stuff together and get back on his regular schedule. But for now, please rest assured he is still around and looking for more things to make fun of.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of talking about Peyton Manning's knee. The word bursa sac is starting to become a four letter word. So, let's put that aside today and talk about some positive things surrounding the team, because lost in all the talk about sacs, swelling, rumors, and rehab was the fact that Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders returned to practice this week. In fact, both men seem to be on a mission to have the Colts defense make a mark on the NFL. Some nice articles here and here give us some insight into how these guys have worked through injuries and are looking to make big strides in 2008.
For Freeney, the road back has been long. His foot injury at San Diego last November was the death knell for the Colts' Super Bowl chances. When he went down (and Robert Mathis hurt his knee), the Colts lost their pass rush. No pass rush = no playoff wins. For the first time since November of 2007, Freeney practiced this week:
He said he still experiences pain occasionally in the foot but added he is getting close to 100 percent.
Yet it's been apparent during the preseason that the Colts are prepared to ease Freeney back into the mix. They moved Raheem Brock, a starting tackle the past two seasons, to left end and flipped starting left end Robert Mathis to Freeney's spot at right end. For now, Freeney is listed as Mathis' backup.
For those still wondering why Brock was switched to DE on 1st and 2nd down, this is another reason why. For the first month of the season, we should expect to see Freeney used as a situational pass rusher. They'll bring him in on passing downs, and mix him with Mathis and Marcus Howard to create a consistent rush. After about a month, they'll ease him back into starting and playing every down. He's going to experience pain in his foot all year. It's just part of the deal. The best way to deal with that pain is to limit snaps early so he is fresh and strong late. The last few years, Freeney has gotten worn down a bit. The Tasmanian Devil can only spin so many times.
For Bob Sanders, last year was his coming out party. We've always known Bob is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. The league saw it, somewhat, in 2006 and saw it in full force in 2007. Bob is one of only two safeties to win Defensive Player of the Year. The last one was Ronnie Lott, arguably the best safety ever. That's impressive company, and like Lott, other players around the NFL are speaking highly of Bob:
"He's the heart and soul of that defense," Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor "He's relentless. He runs all over the place. They know that. He roams and roams. You have to put a hat on him. You have to account for him."
Bob is ready to explode!
What people always like to bring up with Bob Sanders are his injuries. Personally, I don't think Bob has been any more or less injured than many other marquis NFL safeties. Bob missed part of his rookie season with a foot injury sustained in college. It's a reason why he was a 2nd round pick. He then played all of 2005, and then missed much of 2006 before coming back for the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl. He played all but one game last season.
Now, compare that with Pittsburgh's Troy Polomalu, who missed three games in 2006 and was injured pretty much all of last season, missing 5 starts and posting career lows in tackles and grabbing 0 INTs. Philly's Brian Dawkins has done a tremendous job dominating from the safety position throughout his career, which has spanned 13 years. But look at the first 4-5 seasons of his career and you'll see they are riddled with him missing games here and there with various injuries.
Safety is a high collision, high contact position. If your starting safety can start 15 regular season games for you, that's gold. Even the great ones rarely get 13-14 starts.
That said, Bob knows that injuries are part of the game, and taking a measured approach to them is all one can do, and that one should never try to be something they aren't:
"What I do with my body it's hard to not get injured," Sanders said. "But who's to say if I was 6-3, 235 pounds that I wouldn't have those type of injuries. With my body, and the way I play, you have to expect some things are going to come up. You pray and hope that they won't happen, but they sometimes do. I can't change the way I play. People expect me to be Bob Sanders. I can't just slow down. The crazy thing is it is noticed when you try to change. People love you, but they know when you're trying to protect yourself. I go to Pro Bowls and become the Defensive Player of the Year because of the way I play."
With Robert Mathis also healthy and with Freddie Keiaho fully recovered from a nagging elbow injury he dealt with all last season, This Colts defense looks poised to do some special things in 2008. Already, I think it is the best defense in the AFC South, especially when you consider it ranked 2nd in points allowed in 2007 and is returning all of their starters. Several of those starters were rookies in 2007, like Ed Johnson and Keyunta Dawson.
Later today, the Colts will hold their final practice as they get ready for their "dress rehearsal" pre-season game against the Buffalo Bills. After that practice, we'll have a good idea as to whether or not Bob and Dwight will play a little in Saturday's game at The Lube.