Colts starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman has never missed a start in his NFL career, but that streak will come to an end on Monday night at 33 games, as it was announced yesterday that Freeman is out against the Eagles with a hamstring injury. The loss of Freeman on Monday night is certainly a costly one and the Colts will definitely miss him.
At the same time, however, the Colts have a backup who is capable of filling in and playing well, and that's Josh McNary. He's a guy the Colts really like and for good reason. The problem he's encountered is that he's had trouble staying healthy, but he is now and he'll be making his first career NFL start this Monday.
"I definitely feel ready," McNary said Saturday. "We only get a week to prepare for each team anyways and I've had that entire week. I've been in the system for a good amount of time now. I'm pretty solid on everything."
"It's really just focus," McNary said Focus on the execution, all like the fine details and stuff we've been honing in on all week to play. All those little keys, corrections and stuff I've been making throughout the week to make sure I'm solid on and that I just fit into the scheme of the defense."
Of course, he's going to be starting against a pretty tough offense. The Eagles' up-tempo offensive attack provides a great test for any team, much less one without their starting inside linebacker (and with two of their three starting defensive linemen questionable). The positive with McNary is that he's also a very athletic linebacker who should be able to hold his own, and he can also help with pass rushing. When asked what he needs to focus on when playing a team like the Eagles, McNary said that, "It all comes down to quick recognitions, making fast reads and executing. Being comfortable and confident in what you see and what you break down and just go ahead and execute at full-speed. Because they're coming at us full-speed, and we need to match that intensity."
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has confidence in McNary, though at the same time acknowledged that not having Freeman out there will be a loss for the defense. "From an athletic standpoint," Pagano said, "Josh (McNary) is as athletic of a linebacker as we have. The guy can flat out run and cover. Free's (Jerrell Freeman) got experience on him. Free's got more snaps on him. That's what Jerrell has. We're going to miss Jerrell. Certainly going to miss him. But Josh will go in there and he'll play good football. It's not going to be perfect. It's never perfect from anybody on either side of the ball, but he'll make a ton of plays."
I like McNary. He's a good linebacker. The Colts really like him too. They considered making him their starting inside linebacker from the get-go before they signed veteran D'Qwell Jackson in free agency, but all along it was clear that they weren't going away from McNary. When healthy, he's a good inside linebacker (and can play outside, too) and he should be able to step in nicely for Jerrell Freeman. And while we're getting ahead of ourselves here, if he has an impressive showing, I'd be in favor of making Jackson a one or two snap linebacker and getting McNary some playing time. But that's all for a future discussion if McNary plays well. I think he can and the Colts think he can, but we'll see. One thing is certain, though: he's ready for his opportunity.