As the Indianapolis Colts prepare for their home match-up with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, we know that the Horseshoes will be without head coach Chuck Pagano, who was diagnosed with leukemia last week. The big question for the Colts entering the tilt at Lucas Oil Stadium is just which players will be available to interim head coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as he tries to keep the team focused in the wake of Pagano's illness. With several units already banged up in the young season, Arians may have to get creative on several fronts, but it appears that he may get a boost from a familiar face on game day. In particular, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney participated in a full practice on Wednesday for the first time since being injured in the Colts' season opener, and his return would be a welcome development as Aaron Rodgers and the Pack's high-flying offense descends on Indy.
Freeney, transitioning to OLB from defensive end as part of the Colts' overhaul to Pagano's 3-4 defense, suffered a high ankle sprain during the season opener against the Chicago Bears on September 9. Known for devastating hits delivered thanks to blazing speed and in spite of an undersize frame (relative to other DEs), Freeney has shown a tendency toward fragility in recent years, though he did manage to play in all 16 games last season. If he can come back against Green Bay, the Packers may find it difficult to get their ground game perking, and Rodgers will undoubtedly feel a little extra heat. Freeney's backup Jerry Hughes, also transitioning from DE, inspires little fear in opponents and might pave the path for another big day by the Packer offense.
The Colts have already recorded one win this season, against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, and that is an encouraging sign of a young team building around rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. It is frustrating that the team is pretty beaten up this early in the season, though, a situation that makes progress more difficult. In addition to Freeney, inside linebacker Pat Angerer and tight end Coby Fleener are among the wounded, and the offensive line continues in a state of flux. An knee injury to center Samson Satele doesn't help the O-line any, but the real problem there remains a lack of talent and consistency.
Talent, of course, is something that Freeney has in surplus, and getting him back on the field would go a long way toward restoring optimism to the team and fan base. With so many changes, any familiar face is a comfort, and Freeney's ferocity could help keep the ball in Luck's hands.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.