MIAMI — With five days left until Super Bowl XLIV, the word on Colts DE Dwight Freeney's ankle continues to be "day-to-day," with Freeney himself using the term to declare his current condition on Tuesday.
Speaking at Media Day, Freeney confirmed he tore a ligament in his right ankle late in the AFC title game vs. the Jets. He has been wearing a walking boot this week, and he suggested he could wear a brace to protect the ankle so "I could cut even more effectively," he said.
However, a decision on Freeney's status might not be made until the very last minute. He said he does not expect to practice this week as the Colts ramp up preparations for their matchup with NFC champion New Orleans.
Pain and swelling in the ankle are concerns. Freeney flew down to Miami on Friday to give the swelling a few extra days to subside.
"I've thrown everything at it," Freeney said of treatment for the ankle. "All different type of techniques, I'm doing everything. Just trying to do the best thing to get that thing feeling as good as possible so I have the best chance of playing."
Freeney said he had not talked to the club's medical staff about the potential of taking a pregame painkilling shot for the injury. "I guess that's a conversation me and the docs are going to have on Saturday, if it's even safe to do such a thing," he said.
The two weeks between the conference title game and the Super Bowl has given Freeney precious extra time to rehabilitate the injury, and he has taken advantage of it.
"For me, pretty much 99 percent of my time, other than eating and sleeping, has been therapy and treating this injury," he said. "That has really been my main focus. I haven't really had a chance to take in all the events. This is my second time around, so that's not really important to me."
If Freeney can't play Sunday — "If I can't run," he said, "then I can't play," which makes Indianapolis' pregame warmups something to watch closely — Raheem Brock likely will step into the lineup at defensive end.
"It's hard to replace Dwight," Brock said of the prospect of Freeney sitting out. "He's a great player, but we have to go out and handle business."
Colts have adjusted without Sanders
With so much focus fixed on Freeney's ankle and the players who would replace him if he had to miss pro football's biggest game, much less attention has been paid to the loss of another Indianapolis defensive star: SS Bob Sanders.
The dynamic but injury-prone Sanders, whose return from a knee injury that kept him out of much of the 2006 regular season helped propel the Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI, played just two games in '09 because of injuries, and his season ended when he ruptured a biceps tendon in November.
In Sanders' absence, third-year pro Melvin Bullitt has stepped in at strong safety, providing a physical presence on the back end of the defense. Bullitt started nine games in 2008 when Sanders missed time with ankle and knee injuries, and he proved adept in coverage, intercepting four passes. However, Bullitt entered this season wanting to get stronger in run support, an area in which Sanders has thrived.
"If there was anything I wanted to improve upon, it was that," Bullitt said.
Bullitt, who notched 77 tackles in the regular season, is complemented well by rangy FS Antoine Bethea, who has taken on more of a leadership role with Sanders out of the lineup.
"With Bob being the oldest guy in the room and with him going down, of course I had to step up a little bit," said Bethea, who intercepted four passes in the regular season and another in the divisional-round win vs. Baltimore. "As far as a leadership role, that's not always talking. That could be done in your play, just letting the young guys see how it's done and letting them follow you."
Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer likes the way Bullitt and Bethea have meshed.
"They work together well," he said. "We're blessed there. We lost a really good player in Bob."
How do the Colts' safeties look to their opposition in Super Bowl XLIV? Saints WR Lance Moore had this take:
"Tackling machines," Moore said. "When you watch film of those guys, they are all over the field."
Meachem emerges as deep threat for Saints
The play of the Colts' safeties has undoubtedly helped Indianapolis defend well against deep-passing games. The Colts allowed just 27 pass plays of 20 yards or more in the regular season, fewest in the NFL.
The Saints, of course, have a passing game unafraid of stretching the field, as evidenced by their 58 completions of 20 yards or more in the '09 regular season.
And in New Orleans' aggressive offense, third-year WR Robert Meachem, a first-round pick in 2007, finally started to realize his potential. Meachem set career-highs in catches (45), yards (722) and touchdowns (nine) and hauled in 12 catches of 20 yards or more.
"I've come a long way," Meachem said, referring to his understanding of the Saints' offense.
Saints WR coach Curtis Johnson believes Meachem has matured in his three seasons in the NFL, the first of which saw him fail to play in a single regular-season game after offseason knee surgery.
"He didn't understand what an NFL player was," Johnson said, calling Meachem "injury-prone" earlier in his career. "… I think Robert has potential out of the sky. He's something else. He does everything — comes to meetings on time, (takes) notes. He'll run routes every day after practice with Drew (Brees) and the rest of the receivers. I think he's going to be fantastic."
Johnson credits Meachem's willingness to listen to Brees as a reason for his newfound success.
"I think Drew Brees has gotten him to do exactly what Brees wants him to do," Johnson said. "And when you do that for a quarterback, golly, it's something else. It's something special to watch those two work."
Meachem was listed as probable on last Friday's Super Bowl XLIV injury report with an ankle injury, but he practiced fully on Thursday and Friday.