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August 16, 2012

Former CFL linebacker trying to catch on with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have had good luck, for the most part, when adding former Canadian Football League players to the team’s roster.

Cornerback Nick Harper, placekicker Mike Vanderjagt and running back Kenton Keith all proved valuable during their stints with the Colts. Harper and Vanderjagt were the most productive in helping to start Indianapolis’ run of AFC South championships in the early-and mid-2000s.

Defensive end John Chick was with the team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons but failed to become a regular part of Indianapolis’ defensive-line rotation. He’s now on Jacksonville’s injured reserve list after playing with the Jaguars last season. Wide receiver Marc Boerigter, meanwhile, was briefly with Indianapolis but was released during training camp in 2006.

It’s safe, however, to say there have been more hits than misses when it comes to former CFL players helping the Colts on the field.

That’s why the team’s current front office regime is hopeful that athletic inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman can be a quality replacement for injured starter Pat Angerer.

The 6-foot, 234-pound Freeman played the last three seasons up north for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, leading the CFL with 105 total tackles last season. He also registered six quarterback sacks and three interceptions to earn league all-star status in 2011 and was the runner-up for the CFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

That’s pretty impressive for a guy considered too small as a high school player in Waco, Texas, and wound up playing collegiately at Mary Hardin-Baylor, an NCAA Division III school in Belton, Texas.

Freeman left the school as the program’s all-time leading tackler (registering more than 300 career stops) and was named as the Division III Defensive Player of the Year. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans in 2008 but was released prior to the start of the regular season.

Should Freeman end up making it past the Colts’ final roster cut later this month, he would become the first player from Mary Hardin-Baylor to earn a regular-season job with an NFL team. Rookie offensive tackle Nate Menkin is trying to make the Houston Texans’ roster.

“You know, the amazing thing is Jerrell’s just like so many Division III players across the United States that has a big heart but because of an inch here or 10 pounds or whatever there, they don’t fit in some guy’s box. Thank goodness he didn’t fit into a lot of college recruiters’ box and he came here and was a great player for us,” Mary Hardin-Baylor coach Pete Fredenberg recently told the Belton (Texas) Journal.

“He’s done the same thing with the NFL. [Tennessee signed] him out of college because of the way he played and then were disappointed in his size. Then he went to Canada and just set the place on fire. He’s about 230 [pounds] and has to fit into the scheme. He is going to be a real asset to the Colts and is in a situation where he can make the team.”

Freeman certainly hopes so. With Angerer sidelined at least six weeks with a fractured foot, he appears to be the frontrunner to take over one of the Colts’ two inside-linebacker positions.

“I mean, of course, it’s an opportunity to show everybody what you got. I’m always proving myself coming from Division III to the CFL. I’ll be proving myself for the rest of my career, so I don’t mind that at all,” he said after Wednesday’s morning practice.

The possibility of taking over for Angerer is a bit easier because of the relationship that has developed between the two players over the past few months.

“Pat and I actually worked together a lot. We talk and if he sees something or I see something, we’ll talk to each other. It’s a pretty good lockerroom, pretty good teammates in there. We work well together,” Freeman mentioned.

“This is a new defense. They haven’t been in the defense, so everyone is learning together. It’s a process, but luckily we have guys with experience like [first-team inside linebacker] Kavell [Conner] and Pat, even [injured inside linebacker] A.J. [Edds]. It’s just a lot of guys that understand the game, know the game and help me if I don’t know anything. We help each other a lot.”

I I I

n New Jerry Hughes? — It’s safe to say that no player on the Colts’ current roster raises more questions than defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Jerry Hughes.

A first-round draft pick by Indianapolis in 2010, his two-year stint with the team has been anything but spectacular.

Hughes has accumulated just 15 total tackles and one sack as a backup defensive end. Where was the guy who led the NCAA in sacks (15) as a college junior or earned All-American status (11.5 sacks) as a senior at Texas Christian?

Good question. For whatever reason, Hughes didn’t seem to mesh with the Colts’ previous 4-3 defensive system. Conversely, he seems to have found a new home playing outside linebacker under coach Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 hybrid scheme.

Two sacks in last week’s 38-3 preseason win over St. Louis has renewed hopes for extending his NFL career.

“It’s a fun [defensive] system. We’re going out there and he’s putting 11 guys out there on the field that are going to run around and make plays. So it’s a lot of fun but now we’re just getting used to the playbook, getting used to each other so that way we can be quick and on all cylinders,” Hughes said Wednesday, adding that he’s not going to get caught up in what, or what didn’t happen, the last two seasons in Indianapolis.

“I don’t really focus so much on the past. The past is the past. I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I just go ahead and just worry about the future. I got my mind set on this season and doing what it takes to kind of get the Colts back in the winning light like we’re used to.”

He seems to be enjoying trying to learn a new position. Prior to last spring, Hughes had never played linebacker.

“It really is a new position to me. I’ve never played outside linebacker, so I’ve been up here since April kind of getting used to the playbook, getting used to the coaches. We’re just trying to work and I’m just trying to get better so that I can continue to play fast,” he said.

“Yeah, this is pretty much brand new. In college, I was a defensive end. So I don’t really know too much about dropping or reading [pass] coverages or anything like that. This is a little bit of transition. Everybody’s been up here working hard and we’re just trying to put in the work so it will pay off on Sundays.”

n Roster moves — The Colts signed free-agent linebacker Mike Balogun on Wednesday and waived/injured rookie cornerback Buddy Jackson.

Halogun (6-0, 250), a former collegiate linebacker at Oklahoma, was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010. He has also had stints with the Redskins, Buccaneers, Bills and Cowboys. Jackson had been signed by Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent in late April.

In other roster updates, the Colts signed free agent running back Alvester Alexander on Tuesday evening and waived/injured linebacker Scott Luttrus. Alexander (5-11, 204), who played collegiately at Wyoming, was initially signed as an undrafted free agent by Chicago this past spring.

n Luck watch — Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck completed 31 of 39 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions during Wednesday’s seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.

Luck has now thrown more than 400 passes in live drills since the start of training camp and that total jumps to more than 500 passes when all other drills are included.

Backup quarterback Drew Stanton had a pair of touchdown passes to receiver Jeremy Ross, both coming during the team’s final two-minute drills.

n Colts’ alumni coming tonight — According to Pagano, at least 20 former Indianapolis players are expected to be on hand for tonight’s (6:30 p.m.) practice.

Slated to attend are Bill Brooks, Rick DeMulling, Ray Donaldson, Stan Eisenhooth, Tarik Glenn, Mark Herrmann, Darvell Huffman, Danny Kight, Chukie Nwokorie, Mike Prior, Gary Padien, Tony Walker, Devon McDonald, Roosevelt Potts, Damon Watts, Reggie Thornton and Hunter Smith.

The workout will be the second of two schedule night workouts. The Colts will wrap up training camp with a public morning practice at 9:45 Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of situational stuff, a lot of team stuff [to work on during the practice],” the first-year coach said. “For the fans, they’ve been awesome the whole time [in Anderson]. So it will be a last shot for them to come out. Hopefully the weather will hold out.

“We have like 20 alums, I guess, coming [to the practice]. Colts greats that we’re looking forward to having here at practice. We’ll welcome those guys in. But just like anything else, [we want to] just come out and get better.”

 

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