It has been over a decade since the Indianapolis Colts have started training camp without Dwight Freeney on their roster. The Colts began 2013 training camp looking to fill his spot, which is now open. Although the energy in the locker room and on the field will be hard to replace, the team had to roll on with the inevitability of change.
In February of this year, the Colts informed the seven-time Pro Bowler that they would not be re-signing him. The hard truth was, that the Colts needed to bring in new players in several spots, and the money Freeney may have been asking for was going to soak up some of the funds they needed to do so. Injuries and a depletion of production on the field seemed to make the move a necessary one. Freeney was picked up by the San Diego Chargers in May.
Since 2003, Freeney had been part of a tag team on the field with Robert Mathis. The two Pro Bowl bookends were bright spots on a sometimes-suspect Colts defense, and made up one of the most dominating defensive end tandems in NFL history. In ten seasons as teammates, Freeney and Mathis combined for 186 sacks. Not having Freeney on the far side of the defensive line is something that Mathis is unfamiliar with, but something that he knows he will have to deal with.
“It’s weird. It’s really weird,” Mathis said to the media at Colts camp. ”It’s just something I have to get used to, because for over a decade, I’ve been right there. Right next to his side, and he’s been right there, talkin, jokin, and formed more of a brotherhood than just teammates.”
The adjustment will be different, if not plain difficult, without Freeney in the mix. The former Defensive Player of the Year will almost surely enter the Colts Ring of Honor upon retirement. For now, Freeney is the enemy, and the Colts have some big cleats to fill.