By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Pat Angerer is taking nothing for granted.
The fourth-year inside linebacker was one of very few bright spots for the Indianapolis Colts during the disastrous 2011 season, leading the team with 146 tackles and emerging as a rising star.
But all that momentum came crashing down around him during the preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams a year ago when he suffered a broken foot. The injury cost him the first five games of last year’s remarkable turnaround campaign, and he watched from the sideline as Jerrell Freeman turned in a star-making performance in his place.
The foot continued to bother Angerer even after his return, limiting him to just two starts and 28 total tackles. But he somehow found a way to make it onto the field for 11 games.
The offseason was supposed to give him an opportunity to heal and jump start a comeback. But new injuries haunted him throughout the spring and carried over into training camp.
He missed two of the first three regular season games, and fears arose that another lost season might be on the way.
Instead, Angerer fought through it all. He’s played in each of the past five games, and his 35 tackles already have surpassed last season’s total.
“Long road to get to now,” he said in the locker room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center earlier this week. “A lot of people put a lot of work into it. A lot of doubts. Doubts start to creep into your mind. It’s nice to finally be out there contributing.”
Not just contributing but making a major impact.
It was his interception that short-circuited a fourth-quarter drive against Denver when Peyton Manning got the ball deep in his own territory with a chance to take the lead two weeks ago. And it was him again sniffing out a quarterback keeper and chasing down Houston’s Case Keenum for a 3-yard loss on a key play late in the fourth quarter last Sunday night.
The shine is back on the 26-year-old’s career arc, and today he squares off against the team where his troubles first began. The Rams visit Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and Angerer is scheduled to make his seventh start of the season and his sixth in a row.
“Just lately, he’s been making some plays, which he should have been doing early, but now he’s getting into the rhythm of things and seeing things the way he should be seeing them,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “Him and Freeman are working well together.”
Freeman was a revelation a year ago. Joining the Colts after three seasons in the Canadian Football League, he made a team-high 145 tackles in 15 starts.
He even scored the first touchdown of the Chuck Pagano era, returning a Jay Cutler interception to the end zone in the season opener at Chicago.
And Freeman has picked up where he left off a year ago, recording 65 tackles and 3.5 sacks through the first eight games.
“He’s a hell of a player, fun guy to play (beside), great teammate,” Angerer said. “He can do so many things. They ask a lot out of him, and he delivers all the time. That’s a fun guy to play with.”
But is there a friendly competition between the two linebackers? A race to see who can get more tackles or make more big plays?
“Ah, man, I think we both just want to win,” Angerer said. “That’s the main thing.”
Indianapolis is 6-2 entering play today, and the Colts hold a two-game lead over Tennessee (4-4) in the AFC South. The inside linebackers could play a huge role in keeping that run going.
Rookie running back Zac Stacy has stepped up for the Rams in the absence of injured quarterback Sam Bradford. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, taking some of the pressure off backup signal-caller Kellen Clemens.
“He’s a tough, downhill player,” Angerer said. “He’s a good guy. They got a really good o-line.”
Indianapolis has struggled against the run, ranking 27th in the NFL with 999 rushing yards allowed. But the Colts have found a way to make stops when they really need them.
Houston sprinted out to a 14-0 lead last week and still led 24-6 late in the third quarter, but the defense threw a shutout in the final period as Indianapolis rallied for its second fourth-quarter comeback this year.
Angerer again was at the heart of that effort, nearly making a game-clinching interception on the Texans’ penultimate drive. But he said there’s no magic formula to the Colts’ consistent late-game success.
“I think it’s the adjustments,” he said. “We’re constantly trying to improve, constantly trying to get better from the time we step on the field to the time we step off. Just a bunch of guys, even the guys who aren’t playing, who are constantly coaching each other up. And everybody just wants to win.”