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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Colts DE Dwight Freeney is "day-to-day" with his right ankle sprain, head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday, and Caldwell noted that because Freeney has yet to practice, the club is preparing to play Super Bowl XLIV without him.
However, the Colts have not dismissed the prospect of Freeney, a five-time Pro Bowler, taking the field against New Orleans on Sunday. Asked about Freeney's ability to recover from injuries, Caldwell said, "Certainly he's a quick healer."
Freeney did not practice last week and did not attend Sunday's Pro Bowl because of the injury, which Caldwell described as a "third-degree" sprain. Freeney suffered the injury in the Colts' 30-17 win vs. the Jets in the AFC title game on Jan. 24 and has been getting treatment in South Florida since last Friday, Caldwell said.
Freeney is best known for his incredible speed off the edge, which could make a lower leg injury all the more tough for him to overcome. In 14 regular-season games (nine starts) in 2009, he notched 13½ sacks, the second-highest total of his career. Freeney has forced 36 fumbles since 2002, most in the NFL.
Raheem Brock would likely move into the starting lineup if Freeney can't play, but Caldwell said the Colts would use a rotation of players to replace their most fearsome pass rusher. An eight-year veteran, the 6-foot-4, 274-pound Brock, who can also play inside, has 104 career starts to his credit, and he's notched 32 tackles and 3½ sacks this season.
"If he can't go," Caldwell said of Freeney, "it's kind of an old mantra that we have said time and time again, 'Next man up.' "
Colts DT Dan Muir echoed his head coach's sentiments, noting that if Freeney "can't play due to his injury, somebody else will step up, and he will be successful." CB Kelvin Hayden said that while it would take "two or three guys" to replace Freeney, he expressed confidence in the Colts' ability to pick up the slack.
But Hayden also is confident Freeney will be playing Sunday.
"Personally, I'm anticipating he will play, just being the type of guy Dwight is, and I'm assuming the whole team is looking at it like that," Hayden said. "If he's out there, he's going to be effective."
Of Freeney's injury status, Saints QB Drew Brees said Monday: "The fact is that it's the Super Bowl. I know any player would do as much as they could to get on that field. ... We're expecting him to play. If he doesn't, he doesn't. Certainly, I feel like they're coming into this game with all of their ammo."
Freeney missed a pair of games in the regular season, most notably the Week 12 contest vs. Houston with an abdominal injury. He sustained his most serious injury in 2007, when he was limited to nine games with a left foot injury.
If Freeney were to miss Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts' top pass-rush threat would be Robert Mathis, who is also fast off the edge. Mathis, the Colts' left defensive end, racked up 9½ sacks in the regular season.
But there is no doubt the Colts' defense is at its strongest when Freeney and Mathis are firing off the ball. And the absence of Freeney wouldn't loom anything but large.
"I count my blessings every day that he's on my team and I don't have to let him rush against me in a live practice," Colts QB Peyton Manning said Monday. He related the story of how Freeney is fond of running by him in non-contact drills and whispering, 'That would have hurt. That would have hurt.'
"It's a good little reminder," Manning said. "I've always had a positive feeling about Dwight. He's a guy that you like having on your side. I feel good about him this week."
The Colts' hope, of course, is that Freeney feels good on Sunday.