By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
In just two NFL starts, Jerrell Freeman has shown a knack for making plays.
But the only statistic the Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker really cares about is measured on the scoreboard.
“Winning makes everything feel better,” he said Monday at the team’s practice facility, “makes food taste better and makes me sleep a lot better.”
Freeman is the first player from the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor ever to play in the NFL. In Week 1 at Chicago, he became the first undrafted Colts player ever to return an interception for a touchdown in his debut, and he swung momentum at a critical juncture in the home opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Indianapolis was clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the second quarter when Freeman sacked Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder near midfield and forced a fumble. Cory Redding recovered, and the Colts went on a 10-0 run to end the first half.
“It helps us win games, I guess you could say,” Freeman said of his tendency for big plays. “Just play the play that’s called, and let your play speak for itself. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m out there to do it.”
Freeman was forced into action when starting linebacker Pat Angerer fractured a bone in his foot during the preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams. He had five tackles to go with his interception return against the Bears and exploded for 13 tackles along with the strip-sack on Sunday.
His play has been more than even his coaches bargained for.
“He’s exceeded all of our expectations,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “That’s because of the work he’s put in and the time he’s put in. He’s playing a ton of plays, and you could see at the end of the game (Sunday) he didn’t have obviously the same speed and burst that he had at the start. But, you know, 70, 72 plays into it, really pleased with Jerrell and where he’s come.”
Freeman sees plenty of room for improvement.
He was victimized on the Vikings’ final offensive play, finding himself well out of position as Ponder hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a six-yard touchdown pass that tied the game with 31 seconds remaining.
An excellent two-minute drive by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and a 53-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri bailed Freeman out.
“All that good got erased with that one play at the end,” Freeman said. “I could have had a great game, but I might think of one play that whole time. So it’s good to have those (positive) plays, but I think about the bad plays way more than the good plays.”
He’ll likely have a chance for more of both this week when the AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars visit the Circle City.
Angerer isn’t due to return until at least the Green Bay game on Oct. 7, following Indianapolis’ bye. And Freeman and his fellow linebackers likely will be called on for heavy duty again.
Although Jacksonville’s offense gained just 117 total yards in a loss to Houston on Sunday, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was the NFL’s leading rusher last season.
Jones-Drew has 137 yards on 31 carries this season, and he’s almost certain to be the focal point for the Colts’ defense.
“You’re going to hear it around a lot,” Freeman said. “Stopping the run, for this defense, is our No. 1 goal. If you’re able to do that and turn the offense one-dimensional, hopefully go from there and have a little fun.”
Pagano expects Freeman to continue having a lot of fun right in the middle of the action.
“After losing Pat and having him step up and fill in, he’s done a remarkable job,” Pagano said. “And you can see his progress, and you can see him getting better with each series in each game.”