Freeman out, McNary in for Colts home opener

INDIANAPOLIS -
Jerrell Freeman is out, and Josh McNary in.
 
“I definitely feel ready,’’ McNary said. “I think I’m pretty solid.’’
 
He’d better be.
 
The Colts have ruled out Freeman, their starting weak-side linebacker, for Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium. A hamstring injury suffered during the season-opener at Denver kept him out of practice all week, forcing him to miss his first game after 33 consecutive regular-season starts.
 
That opens the door for McNary to make his first career NFL start and first at any level since Dec. 30, 2010, when he led Army to a 16-10 victory over Southern Methodist in the Armed Forces Bowl. McNary kick-started the win by returning a first-quarter fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.
 
The loss of Freeman is a major hit to the defense. He’s the unit’s top all-around player – solid in run support and coverage – and had a team-high 14 tackles against the Broncos. Freeman has led the defense in tackles in each of his two seasons, and piled up a franchise-record 203 in 2012.
 
Like Freeman, McNary was signed as a so-called “street free agent" in April 2013. After a standout career at Army, he was out of football for two seasons while completing his military obligations.
 
McNary appeared in five games a year ago and finished with 16 tackles. He had five tackles after replacing Freeman at Denver.
 
“You always want that opportunity,’’ McNary said. “When you’re not starting, it’s something you’re always striving for. When you do get the opportunity, you want to make sure you do what you can to maximize it.’’
 
Coach Chuck Pagano said McNary is “as athletic a linebacker as we have. The guy can flat-out run and cover. Josh will go in there and play good football. He’ll make a ton of plays."
 
Other health issues
 
Along with Freeman, offensive lineman Joe Reitz (ankle) has been ruled out of the Eagles game. Center Khaled Holmes (ankle), defensive tackle Art Jones (shoulder) and nose tackle Josh Chapman (ankle) are questionable. Safety Sergio Brown (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (ribs) are probable.
 
Wayne misses Mathis
 
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Robert Mathis have been teammates since 2003. Their relationship is deep.
 
That in mind: These are tough times for Wayne. Not only is Mathis serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy, he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury while working out on his own in Atlanta.
 
The toughest part, according to Wayne, is Mathis isn’t allowed to have any contact with anyone connected with the organization during his suspension.
 
That’s compounded by the fact Wayne and Mathis are close friends and next-door neighbors.
 
“Not my neighbor around the corner, but he’s right next door,’’ Wayne said. “So how’s that work? I’ve got to turn the other cheek?
 
“If he’s checking the mail and I’m checking the mail, I’ve got to be one of them neighbors you don’t like, where you speak to them and they don’t speak back?
 
“I’m not allowed to make any contact with him. We normally go out to eat on Thursday nights. (Now) I have nobody to go out and eat with. It’s tough, man. It’s an adjustment."
 
Mathis underwent season-ending surgery earlier this week. He’s allowed to return to the Colts’ complex Sept. 29.
 
“You’re so out of the loop with what’s going on,’’ Wayne said. “To see him, there’s going to be so much catching up to do."
 
It was suggested Mathis, who sports a smooth head, might return with hair.
 
“Who knows?’’ Wayne said with a grin. “He may have a big Afro. That could be true. Who knows? You might see a black Jesus (when Mathis returns).’’
 
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
 
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