There are a lot of new players on the Colts. At last count, at least 54 players are either new or have a year or less of experience.
This leads to a lot of moments where I read and update, see a name, and a blank slate just replaces my mind. Never before can I remember mixing up so many names, and being so unfamiliar with a roster.
The roster is filled with no-names, and it's one of the reasons why the team will likely struggle for large portions of the season.
However, there is one name that I had never heard before this off-season, that I am very excited for. One name that I'm actually looking forward to having on the roster, instead of having some sort of vague apprehension.
That name is Jerrell Freeman.
Perhaps you've never heard of him. I wouldn't blame you.
Born in Waco, Texas, the 6' 234 lb. linebacker attended the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor from 2004-2007, a small D-3 Christian university located in Belton, TX. To date, Freeman has been one of the programs most successful players, leaving with the school record for career tackles (311), second in tackles for a loss in a career (48.5), and fifth in career sacks (15).
After declaring himself eligible for the draft in 2008, Freeman went undrafted, but was snatched up by the Titans directly after the draft, apparently the first graduate of UMHB to be offered an NFL contract. Unfortunately, Freeman's life in the NFL was short lived, and he was cut in training camp.
Freeman didn't receive any calls throughout the 2008 season, and in March of 2009 he signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Freeman started his rookie season on special teams, leading the team in special teams tackles. During his sophomore year (2010) he broke into the linebacker rotation, starting several games by the end of the season. Last season he started every game, led the CFL in tackles, and gained several honors as a premier defensive player.
Then, on January 19, 2011, in Ryan Grigson's first new acquisition as GM, Freeman was signed to a reserve/futures contract with the Colts.
After watching some highlights of Freeman, I was pleasantly surprised.
Freeman looked fast, having a quick reaction to both running plays and in coverage, and could even rush the passer in blitz packages. Of course, he was playing in the CFL, so everything must be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, but nevertheless, I was intrigued.
Now, it's time for Freeman to take the test again, and prove that this time, he can stick in the NFL.
Sure, he has somethings stacked against him. He's got a lot of miles already for essentially a rookie player. He's not very big, and we don't know if he can handle NFL speed.
But, it seems like Freeman is making an impact, and I expect him to make the Colts' roster this year, and contribute in an important way.
Not only will Freeman likely be a special teams ace, but all impressions are that he will play a role in the linebackers' rotation as well. The first unofficial depth chart that was released listed Freeman as second on the depth chart, backing up Pat Angerer as the WILL linebacker in the system.
Earlier this week, George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin told us that Freeman has also been taking snaps in Kavell Conner's place on the first team, which would hint that the team could be planning on using Freeman as the linebacker for passing downs, for a few reasons:
- The team is likely not convinced of Conner's coverage skills, which were pretty non-existent in 2011. Freeman's reaction time (and ability to cover, I just am unsure of it at this point, with little film available of him) may help him be a better option for passing downs. Conner was very good against the run in 2011, but pass coverage was sketchy.
- Freeman's ability to rush the passer on linebacker blitzes on third and long will be an asset as well. Conner has not demonstrated that skill as of yet, and Freeman has a history of doing it in the CFL and in college. It seems they are already working on it, with Freeman getting to the quarterback numerous times during Tuesday night's practice in Anderson.
The versatility to both cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, as well as rush the passer on blitzes is a valued one in Greg Manusky's aggressive defense, and one that may just be suited for a guy like Freeman.
He may just be an ex-CFL'er, but I'll be keeping my eye on him during the preseason. You should be too.
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