ANDERSON, Ind. — Robert Mathis had his choice of teams as a free agent this offseason. Dwight Freeney spent much of the late winter and early spring wondering if the only team he’s ever known still wanted him.
This afternoon both will be on the field at Anderson University as the Indianapolis Colts go through their first padded practice of 2012 training camp. They remain leaders for a defense many experts are counting out, but nearly everything else around them has changed.
New head coach Chuck Pagano arrived from the Baltimore Ravens in February, and he brought his version of the 3-4 defense with him. That means Freeney and Mathis no longer are considered defensive ends, the position they’ve played for a combined 19 years in the NFL.
“It’s just now I guess being labeled an outside linebacker, which I don’t know about that yet,” Freeney said after Monday’s morning walk-through.
“But whatever it is, it’s just a little bit different for everybody.”
Freeney remembers his first practice during organized team activities this spring when he got his initial look at the new defensive gameplan.
It was a far cry from the “Tampa 2” zone defenses the Colts had been running since Tony Dungy arrived as head coach in 2002.
“I will say the first day was rough, that was in May,” Freeney said.
“We’ve always been Cover 2, and that was all we knew. That first day I remember, that first package went in, and it was like 15 blitzes. I’m standing up, new terminology, and I had no idea what was going on. I was like a rookie. But being out there, being in the fire, I learned quickly.”
There was speculation Freeney would be a bad fit for this scheme. He carries a $19-million salary-cap number, and rumors quickly spread that he would be traded.