Last season, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman burst onto the scene and anchored the linebacking core that some were concerned about after Pat Angerer went down with an injury. Instead of giving reason to worry, Freeman gave fans reason to be incredibly excited about both his play and his potential.
Freeman racked up a lot of tackles a year ago, adding 2 sacks, 2 pass deflections, a forced fumble and a pick that he returned for the score in the Colts' first game of the season. In 13 of the Colts' 16 games (he started all 16), Freeman led the team in tackles. Just how many tackles Freeman actually had in 2012 isn't really known, with the Colts saying he had a franchise record 203 and the NFL's official website having him down for 145. The point is not dependent on how many tackles exactly he had last year, the main thing is that he had a big impact and a lot of tackles.
In 2012, Freeman played at a pro bowl level, and there is absolutely no reason to think that he won't continue to do so in 2013. He will play a critical role in the Colts' defense this season, and for that reason he ranks number 7 on our list of the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013.
I know I have quote it before, but Cory Redding's explanation during training camp of the defensive line's role in the 3-4 defense is great and worth repeating:
"We, up front, the main emphasis is to absorb people. You don't really want to have a 260 or 270 guy down on the front line that's going to get ate up. You want big 300-pound guys demanding two so you keep the linebackers free. You want them to make the plays. If you come off, and beat your guy and you make tackle, yes that's a plus. Great for you, but that really wasn't your play to make. That's the linebacker's play. We have to eat up two guys if we can every single play to keep our linebackers free. If you so happen to get off and make a play, that's excellent. That's pretty much what it's all about."
The role of the inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, therefore, is a very important one and is a role that requires the linebacker to make a lot of plays and stops. That's evident from watching the game, in the stats, and in Redding's explanation.
And as a result, Jerrell Freeman's role as the Colts' starting inside linebacker is an important one. Especially considering the fact that the other inside linebacker spot is not yet decided and is between Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner (and maybe Kelvin Sheppard still, even though he shouldn't be).
Jerrell Freeman figures to be the one solid, unwavering force in the middle of the defense and he needs to be in order for this defense to be successful. Of course, he can't do it on his own (no one can), but Freeman's role on this defense is to be all over the field making plays. That type of guy is certainly the type of player that is fit for this list, and Jerrell Freeman absolutely is on it at number 7.
Good thing for the Colts is that the player occupying that important inside linebacker is a good one, one who should have made the pro bowl a year ago and who certainly should play at the same level again in 2013.