Colts will put their stock in Brock
If Freeney can't play, veteran defensive lineman is confident he can carry the load
MIAMI -- There's no denying that the Indianapolis Colts will miss defensive end Dwight Freeney if his sprained right ankle sidelines him for Super Bowl XLIV. What hasn't been discussed nearly as much is how his potential replacement, Raheem Brock, would fare with more action. Brock quickly answered that question as media day opened Tuesday.
"I'm not worried," Brock said. "It's just an opportunity for me to make more plays."
Brock wasn't just talking like a man who's confident in his ability to perform. His behavior sent the same message: the easy smile, the candid answers, the disinterest in trying too hard to explain who he was and what he'd done during eight NFL seasons. Brock understands what he has meant to the Colts. In his eyes, it's time for everybody else to get a clear view of a man who has started more games for this franchise (94) than any other defensive lineman on the roster.
Now will Brock, who has 28.5 career sacks, create as many challenges for the New Orleans Saints as Freeney, a man with 84 sacks and five Pro Bowl appearances? No. But is Brock solid enough to help this team win its second Super Bowl in four years? Certainly.
"It's not like he's been unearthed as some unusual talent," said Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who still lists Freeney as questionable for Sunday. "The guy has made a lot of great plays throughout the years."
Caldwell is referring to plays such as the one Brock made in the Colts' 20-3 AFC divisional playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens. In that game, Brock forced a fumble by Ravens running back Ray Rice that the Colts recovered at their 20-yard line. Brock also created a huge turnover in a regular-season win over the Houston Texans in 2008. When Indianapolis trailed late in that contest, it was Brock's sack and forced fumble that led to a 68-yard touchdown return and an eventual comeback victory.
Brock has been just as essential to the Colts' success during the course of the 2009 regular season. When new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer arrived this past offseason, he wanted to play a more aggressive, blitzing style of defense. That meant the 6-foot-4, 274-pound Brock -- a player who already had been lining up at defensive tackle and end -- would be asked to be a roaming linebacker in some obvious passing downs. "The idea," Brock said, "was to get Dwight, [defensive end] Robert Mathis and myself on the field at the same time."
It's difficult to know exactly how much Brock will be asked to assume that role on Sunday because he'll be busy enough as it is. He figures to play most of his snaps at left defensive end (his regular spot when he moves to the edge in the team's rotation) while Mathis moves into Freeney's position on the right. The Colts also will rotate in Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster, but Brock's potential impact can't be underestimated. He'll have to win his share of one-on-one matchups if Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowler, continually draws double-teams.
Brock's teammates are expecting him to do exactly that. "He's a very steady guy, a veteran guy," Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said when asked about Brock's best attributes. "He brings a leadership to that position, and he's very athletic in what he does. He can play the 3-technique as well as flip out to end. He's also a strong guy who plays the point of attack well and has some great moves in the passing game."
Brock seems genuinely excited about the chance to step into the spotlight. When he came to Indianapolis in 2002, he was a rookie free agent who had been cut by Philadelphia. But it wasn't a lack of talent that led the Eagles to dump their seventh-round pick that year. Because they had used up their rookie salary-cap space, they had to cut Brock right before the start of training camp.
That was a tough lesson that Brock had to learn about NFL life, especially because he had been a college standout at Temple and was the son of Zachary Dixon, who had spent part of the 1980 season with the Eagles.
"After growing up in Philly, I had the chance to play for the Eagles until I got that call right before camp," Brock said. "But that opened up another opportunity for me to come here and play for [former Colts coach] Tony Dungy. And I'm glad everything worked out."
All Brock has done since then is become one of the Colts' unsung heroes. Although Freeney has generated 84 sacks in the past eight seasons, Brock has more tackles (288 to 242). Brock also is responsible for making the defensive-line calls and mentors younger teammates. In many ways, he has been the ideal teammate. Now he's poised to show the entire football-watching world what he can do in a pinch.
Judging from the way Brock carried himself in his first interaction with the media, nerves won't be an issue this week.
"We're not going to do anything differently than what we've been doing," Brock said. "It will be hard to replace Dwight, but if he can't go, we still have a good defensive line and we can still pressure the quarterback."
On most teams, that would sound like bravado coming from an inexperienced reserve. In this case, however, Brock isn't the kind of guy who will let his team down on Sunday.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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