Caldwell hopeful Freeney will suit up

Updated: February 1, 2010, 9:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The hope is that Dwight Freeney will play in Sunday's Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts.

The plan is to play the game without him.

After Freeney missed all four practices last week, Coach Jim Caldwell said Monday the team was preparing to play without the injured All-Pro defensive end.

"He hasn't been practicing, so if he's not practicing, we are preparing to not have him," Caldwell told reporters after arriving in South Florida. "If he can't go, we'll do some rotations, and Raheem [Brock] will be a big part of that."

Freeney is listed as questionable on the team's injury report with a sprained right ankle. Caldwell reiterated the team's position, saying Freeney has a third-degree, low-ankle sprain and is improving.

A source familiar with the injury told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Freeney has a torn ligament in his right ankle that will make it difficult for him to play against the New Orleans Saints.

A week after team president Bill Polian said Freeney would play, he now says the player's chance of seeing action was 50-50.

A third-degree ankle sprain by definition involves a complete tear of an ankle ligament.

However, the Colts remain optimistic.

"I'm very hopeful he will play," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "He has special characteristics about him and I'm counting on those this week."

Freeney also has a penchant for disproving conventional wisdom. From the moment the Colts drafted him with the No. 11 pick in 2002, some criticized the team for reaching on a player that had been described as a situational pass rusher. Freeney came off the bench for the first eight games his rookie season and finished with 13 sacks. He became the first Indy player to win the league sacks title in 2004, with 16, and has produced at least 10 sacks in six of eight NFL seasons.

Freeney has a rare combination of speed, leverage and uncanny spin moves, which makes life difficult for opponents.

That's why the Saints would prefer seeing as little of the five-time Pro Bowler as possible.

"Obviously, Dwight Freeney is a great player. Obviously, we would love for him not to play in the game," New Orleans running back Reggie Bush said. "But we're going to prepare like he's playing in the game. We're going to continue to chip block. We're going to continue to do whatever we can to keep the pressure off [Drew Brees]."

Freeney's teammates understand how big a blow Freeney's absence could be.

They are also convinced that Brock, an eight-year veteran who has been a key part in Indy's expanded blitz packages this season, would be a capable replacement.

"Of course you hope he'll be out there. You want to look to your right and see Dwight," defensive tackle Daniel Muir said. "Even with Dwight not out there, though, we've had success. It's next man up. If he can't go, we've got to pick up the bayonet and go."

That's been the Colts motto since former coach Tony Dungy arrived in 2002, and it has never been more imperative than this season.

Indy won its first 14 games despite losing starters Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson, Tyjuan Hagler and Kelvin Hayden for long stretches. Only Hayden has returned.

Now, though, the concern is focused squarely on Indy's most important defensive player and whether he'll be as effective -- if he plays at all.

"Dwight is playing and he will be 100 percent by the game," Brackett joked, poking fun at the intrigue before turning serious. "Honestly, I have no clue. But if anybody can come back from an injury, it's Dwight. He's had weird things all season. People said he would miss 10 weeks and then he plays in seven days."

The question is: Can he do it again?

Freeney, who has been in a walking boot all week, flew to South Florida on Friday to begin a battery of treatments for the ankle. Freeney has used a hyperbaric chamber this week to help heal, a technique he often uses to try to heal from injuries quickly.

Freeney is also using a device called ARP that is similar to a stem device to move the blood supply to the damaged ankle. The ARP operates differently from normal stem devices, but ARP has helped him in past years recover quickly from groin and hamstring pulls.

"It's a tough deal, but injuries happen in football. Come Sunday, I'm confident he'll be there," said Hayden, who is best remembered for scoring the game-sealing touchdown in the Colts' Super Bowl victory three years ago. "I'm kind of certain and confident that he'll be out there and that he'll be effective."

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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