Freeney Comes Up Big

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October 29, 2001
Freeney Comes Up Big

Last year, Syracuse DE Dwight Freeney did all he could to stop Michael Vick and the Virginia Tech Hokies, harassing, chasing and eventually sacking Vick 4.5 times on the afternoon. But his Herculean effort came up short as the Orangemen fell, 22-14.

In their rematch on Saturday, Freeney got some much-needed help.

Syracuse recorded five sacks (one from Freeney), another seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, limited the Hokies to -3 yards rushing in the first half (90 total, nearly 150 yards less than their season average) and held Virginia Tech to its lowest point total since 1995, helping Syracuse upset the Hokies, 22-14. The loss was Virginia Tech’s first at home since 1998, and likely ended the Hokies’ dreams of playing for a national championship.

The win launched Syracuse into the top 25 and Dwight Freeney into the national consciousness. With all due respect to Julius Peppers, Freeney is arguably the best pass rusher in college football right now. His sack on Saturday gives him 14.5 on the year, and the senior now needs just 1.5 more in his final three games to set the single-season standard. The relentless, havoc-causing Freeney also has 21 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles, this, despite receiving constant double- and sometimes triple-teams.

So, why haven’t we heard more about Freeney until now? Did we mention he’s 6’1", 258 pounds?

Officially, a "tweener," Freeney (who has 27.5 sacks in his last 18 games) has scouts divided over whether or not he can play end in the NFL. On the one hand, the athletic Freeney runs a 4.42/40, can bench press over 500 pounds and has the quickest first step in the nation. On the flip side, the oft-injured end has been average, at best, against the run, and, in fact, can be overpowered if you run directly at him. And on Sundays, teams will run directly at him, pulling their mammoth guards and blasting the undersized Freeney off the point of attack. What to do, what to do…

Obviously, Freeney has the size and speed to play linebacker, but might not have the instincts or range. Bottom line, he’s much more comfortable with his hands down, rushing the passer than he is reacting to a play from the outside linebacker spot. And while Syracuse likes to move him around the field and create favorable match-ups, he likely won’t have the experience to play linebacker in the NFL.

So, are we wasting our time spotlighting a guy who might not even make it in the NFL? Not at all. If scouts draw any consensus on Freeney, it’s this: if placed in the proper scheme, he could be an explosive playmaker on the professional level, similar (says The Sporting News) to New York’s John Abraham.

Abraham played outside linebacker in New York’s 3-4 scheme last year, and registered 4.5 sacks in just 6 games. This year, the team made a switch to the 4-3, and moved the undersized Abraham (6’4", 256) to end. He’s responded with 3 sacks through the first six games.

Freeney, like Abraham, is an exceptional athlete, and could likely thrive in a 3-4 scheme. And coach Dom Capers, who, granted, doesn’t know at this point what system the Texans will run, is most familiar and comfortable running a 3-4.

Regardless of the scheme, Capers loves OLBs who can wreak havoc on the field, get to the quarterback, and draw a defense’s attention. Greg Lloyd, Lamar Lathon and Kevin Hardy have all excelled on defenses run by Capers.

Does Freeney, assuming scouts remain divided and his size drops him out of the first round, have what it takes to be the next stud pass rusher on one of Capers’ defenses?

Let’s ask the Hokies.

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