NFL News and Notes: Freeney's Ankle Injury, LT Sounds Off, & More

February 7, 2010

With the Super Bowl only a few short hours away, here is a quick look at some of this week's top stories from around the NFL:

Dwight Freeney's Ankle Injury

By far, the most frequently discussed topic leading up to the Super Bowl has been the status of the ankle injury to Colt's star Dwight Freeney. Ironically, despite all the speculation and chatter related to his condition, it is fairly easy to predict what will happen come kickoff time: Freeney will give it a shot on 3rd down passing situations, and he will be less than 100%.

Given those facts, how will such a reduced role impact Sunday's game?

First, if Freeney is only able to go at half-speed, the Colts may have to dial up additional pressure, even on those plays when Freeney is in the game. As a result, their defensive backs could find themselves in more man coverage with limited safety help over the top. Thus, the Saints' offense could benefit from some big plays, provided their receivers can get separation.

Second, a banged-up Freeney could free up the Saints passing attack by giving Drew Brees more options. In other words, when healthy, Freeney's speed and devastating spin moves usually demand some kind of extra attention. If Freeney however can be handled one-on-one, then the Saints will not need to chip him with a back or tight end. Instead, they can then put that back or tight end into the pattern, and spread out the Colts' D that much more.

Finally, overlooked in all the talk about the Colts pass rush has been their run defense. Since Freeney at best will be a third down specialist come Sunday, his absence in short yardage scenarios and on first down certainly will aid the Saints running game.

The Colts still have talented Robert Mathis along their front 7, but that might not be enough. Expect them to gamble and blitz more this Sunday.

LaDainian Tomlinson Wants Out of San Diego

This week LT, the face of the Chargers for the past decade, voiced his displeasure and essentially stated that he wanted out of San Diego.

While a more limited offensive role in '09 certainly was a contributing factor in his decision to speak out, the real reason for his frustration was an apparent locker room split among the veterans and younger players on the team.

Tomlinson hinted that at times he did not feel "connected" with the team, and questioned the me-first approach of some of his teammates. Despite an 11-game win streak during the regular season, LT also claimed that he was not happy for much of the year.

A consummate pro, LT very well could have been referring to some apparent lapses in discipline among the Chargers. From the Merriman-Tila Tequila incident to the latest reports of Charger players going to a nightclub prior to their playoff game with Jets, the championship-hungry LT undoubtedly wanted more focus from his team.

Tomlinson is a likely Hall of Famer on the downside of his career, who knows that he has limited opportunities left to get a ring. Now lacking the burst to get past the linebackers and into the second level, the classy LT nevertheless can still contribute to a playoff contender so long as he can split carries with another younger back.

As for San Diego, expect changes in the works. Even if Tomlinson wanted to return, his declining skills and high salary would have probably caused the Chargers to ship him out of town regardless. For similar reasons, they will also probably shed themselves of linebacker Shawne Merriman as well.

As a result, the Chargers probably will use one of their higher draft picks on a running back, as Darren Sproles has yet to prove that he can be "the guy" over an entire season.

Although Charger fans can take solace in the fact that quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates still make San Diego the favorite in a mediocre AFC West, it does not mask the underlying problem cited by LT - lack of professionalism among the younger players. Nor does it fix the apparent absence of leadership at the top needed to keep the kids in line.

With LT gone, that babysitting problem now falls on Coach Norv Turner or Rivers to rectify.

Former Rivals Rice, Emmitt Lead New Hall of Fame Class

The 2010 Hall of Fame class will be led by two of the all-time greats at their respective positions, as running back Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys and wide receiver Jerry Rice were voted into Canton, Ohio, on their first ballot.

Rice is universally-regarded as history's best receiver, winning 3 Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, and then enjoying a late career revival with the Oakland Raiders. He also won a Super Bowl MVP award, and is the NFL's leader in touchdowns.

Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and as such, is part of any conversation regarding the greatest running back in NFL history. He also won 3 Super Bowls with the Cowboys, a Super Bowl MVP, and was the NFL's MVP in 1993.

Joining superstars Smith and Rice will be John Randle, Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little, Russ Grimm, and Rickey Jackson.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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