Just when it appeared that Dwight Freeney couldn't gain more respect from his teammates, he found a way.
The Indianapolis Colts' All-Pro defensive end sustained a third-degree ligament tear in his right ankle late in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets last season and was listed as questionable in the days leading up to the Super Bowl against New Orleans.
Freeney played, and even sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees once. Though his ankle stiffened up in the second half and he wasn't as effective, fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis admired Freeney's effort in the 31-17 loss to New Orleans.
"I was very impressed," Mathis said. "I came to him in the locker room after the game and showed him some love for gutting it out. That was a serious setback, and he just gutted his way through. He got some points for that one."
After healing during the offseason, Freeney has declared himself ready for 2010. He hasn't had any problems in nearly a week of practice during the Colts' training camp at Anderson University.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm out there, I'm working."
Freeney's approach in the days leading up to the Super Bowl stuck with Mathis because he could tell how much the ankle hurt him.
"When you watched him and looked at him, you pretty much didn't have any doubt because with his preparation and the way he was intent on playing, he was going to play," he said. "It was just a matter of how much."
After the Super Bowl, Freeney chose not to have surgery and went into intense rehabilitation.
"That was a long process," he said. "Pretty much, I took 17 hours a day rehabbing the injury. We did a lot of stuff, from oxygen chambers, eating right, chiropractic stuff, acupuncture, and I got it back right."
Mathis says Freeney now looks like the player who was named to Associated Press NFL All-Pro Team for third time last season and tied for third in the league with 13.5 sacks.
"You see him flying off the ball and the patented spin move," Mathis said. "I feel he's back. He's ready to take this season to another level."
"Dwight's doing well," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's performing well and looks good. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy."
Freeney got a chance to test himself during a situational practice on Thursday.
"Just going out there and hitting and getting back at it, this is definitely business as usual," he said.
Freeney said the Colts might ease him into the flow at times to make sure he doesn't stress the ankle too much. He said his conditioning is ideal.
"I feel like I am in real good shape right now," he said. "I know this, this is the best I'm going to feel. It is not an issue at all."
Linebacker Gary Brackett said he's never worried about Freeney.
"Dwight is a guy who has been around the block a few times, so he knows what he needs to do to get his body in shape and ready to go for the regular season," Brackett said.
Mathis went to his second straight Pro Bowl after logging 9.5 sacks and 23 quarterback pressures in 14 regular-season games. He's glad to have his partner back.
"You've got to account for 93," he said. "That's just the bottom line, no matter how you cut it. I enjoy playing next to him, and let's keep bringing the heat."