Pass rusher Freeney ready to help Cardinals however he can
First Look: Dwight Freeney hits the practice field
LB Dwight Freeney hits the practice field for the first time as a member of the #AZCardinals.#AZvsPITPosted by Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday, October 14, 2015
The Arizona Cardinals did not bring Dwight Freeney in with the expectation that he would step right into the lineup and be a premier pass rusher. No, right now the idea is that the veteran linebacker will come in and provide depth at a position where the team could use some.
Of course, the team also did not bring the veteran of 13 seasons with 111.5 sacks — the fifth highest total among active players — to sit around and collect dust while he slowly learns the team’s defense.
“Freeney’s involved now,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday. “That’s why we signed him. He rushes the passer. I don’t think you have to teach him that.”
“Yeah, basically, alright,” Freeney said, with a smile, when informed of Arians’ comments. “Rushing the passer, let them know that, right? Pittsburgh, I’m just rushing the passer guys.”
In truth, it’s not quite that simple, which is something both coach and player are aware of. Though Freeney has been a star in the league virtually from the moment he was selected 11th overall in the 2002 draft out of Syracuse, the defense scheme in Arizona differs from what he was part of during his 11 years in Indianapolis and his two years in San Diego.
And on top of that, Freeney did not participate in OTAs, minicamp, training camp, preseason or the first five games of the season, meaning he’s at least a little bit behind the curve in regards to being truly ready to go.
Asked what is realistic in terms of how much he could do right now, Freeney said it really comes down to how much the coaches want him to do and when they want him to do it.
“I’m just trying to help this team out however I can and just kind of do what I do,” he said.
Arians said the goal is to get Freeney on the field for 15 to 20 snaps, though that number will fluctuate depending on how many nickel packages the Cardinals run. More pass rushing situations would equal more Freeney, and though he has not played any football this season, the 35-year-old seven-time Pro Bowler said he’s made sure to stay in shape. He may not be in football shape, per se, but he’s also not too far off.
“I’ve been working out pretty good, and I think the older you get your body gets used to it faster,” he said. “For me, I’ve been doing this for a little bit so now that my body is kind of getting used to being through those types of motions, types of things, so it gets adjusted pretty quickly.
“I think the challenge for me will be probably mentally. New scheme, new terminology. It’s not just ‘see ball, get ball.’ You’ve got to make sure you’re in the right spot, then get the ball.”
Freeney should get more comfortable the longer he is with the team. His first and only practice with the team was Wednesday, and Arians said his new linebacker was in great shape, but noted that was not a surprise.
“We’ll put the pads on tomorrow,” he said. “A little bit change of schedule. I want to give them one more day because we’ve played so many plays defensively. Get him to knock some of the rust off.”
The sooner, the better. Though Arizona’s defense has not been an issue during the team’s 4-1 start, the Cardinals have struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks. Their eight sacks are tied for 23rd in the NFL, and with linebacker Alex Okafor out for the next few weeks with a calf injury, generating a pass rush won’t be any easier.
Enter Freeney, who registered just 3.5 sacks last season with the Chargers but was among the league leaders in QB hurries, with 21 in 16 games. Sacks are nice, but hurries aren’t bad, either.
“Well if you sack him, you can’t get interceptions,” Arians said. “But, if you move him off the spot and then he throws bad balls, interceptions are better.”
For Freeney, who had been without a team since March when the Chargers elected not to bring him back, just being on a roster with a chance to play and compete is about all he could ask for. For a while, anyway, it looked like the opportunity may never come.
Then the Cardinals, led by a coach he used to play for, expressed interest.
“I’ve been saying ‘you know what, I’m only going to wait two more weeks before I retire’ for about eight weeks,” he said with a laugh. “I was like, come August, ‘great, training camp’s done, I don’t have to do that, great. So who is going to call and come pick me up?’ So after that, it was kind of like, ‘OK, I’m retiring after Week 2, that’s it, if no one calls me,’ and then Week 2 comes around and my agent says, ‘Just hold on a little bit longer.’
“I’m glad I did. This is a great situation. These guys are balling right now, things are rolling right now. If I think about it, all the teams I’ve looked at, this is probably the best team. It is the best scenario, and I have the most relationships here in the building, so it’s kind of an extension of what I’m used to.”