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Freeman rises from obscurity to Colts starter

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

The former CFL player has 31 tackles in two games

Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 5:27 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman sounds like he's gotten over being an imported Saskatchewan Roughrider. Two NFL starts and a busload of tackles will do that.

Freeman came to the Colts as an unknown curiosity. He's 26, and played at a college only known by those in a 10-mile radius (Mary Hardin-Baylor). He had spent a few minutes – OK, a few practices – as part of the Tennessee Titans in 2008 before three years in the Canadian Football League.

“I was just trying to make the team when I first got here,” Freeman said. “Things happen in football.”

The main “thing” happening was starting linebacker Pat Angerer going down with a broken foot, throwing the Colts' rebuilt defense into somewhat of a crisis mode. Freeman won the starting job, and then he made his name on opening day by picking off a Jay Cutler pass and returning it for a touchdown in Chicago.

Now he's trying to become a player that's tough to dislodge from the starting lineup, even when Angerer eventually returns.

“I'm past that 'being tickled and giddy' about the opportunity,” Freeman said. “Now I'm trying to get the work down that they brought me here to do, and that's play football.”

Freeman delivered 13 tackles against the Bears, then upped that to 18 tackles against the Vikings, including a forced fumble of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.

The start is phenomenal considering where he came from. He's the first player ever to suit up in the NFL from Mary Harding-Baylor, an NCAA Division III school. Most players from that level get one shot – Freeman's appeared to be his chance with the Titans – before NFL teams move on to other unknown, younger prospects.

But Freeman tore up the CFL. He had 144 tackles, 13 sacks, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries in three seasons.

He benefited from the Colts' new regime's willingness to conduct a scorched earth tactic to find players for the reconstituted defense.

No one wants to see a player go down, but Angerer's injury opened the door for Freeman to prove his CFL stats weren't the result of weak competition in a foreign game.

“He's exceeded all of our expectations,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “That's because of the work he's put in and the time he's put in.”

Pagano said Freeman tired near the end of the Vikings game, and that may have contributed to getting beat for a touchdown by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. But that's something that can be fixed.

“After losing Pat and having him step up and fill in, he's done a remarkable job,” Pagano said. “You can see his progress and you can see him getting better with each game."

Freeman says he's past the “giddy” stage of making the team, but he also knows that there are no guarantees on how things will shake out as the season goes on. Angerer should be back within the next month.

“You never know in this business,” Freeman said.

He knows he can still become a better linebacker. He has played in all sorts of schemes and formations including the CFL's “not conventional” approaches. He said he's used to playing anything and everything, and there's no limit to what he still needs to learn.

“You can always get better,” Freeman said. “A guy like Ray Lewis, he's been in the league 17 years and he says he's still learning. You're going to be learning the whole time you're here.”