INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Josh Freeman spent his first two pro seasons showcasing his franchise quarterback skills.
He spent the next three fighting to hang on in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Now, after spending two years out of the league, Freeman is finally getting another chance to prove himself.
The 27-year-old former first-round draft picked signed Tuesday with the quarterback-needy Colts. By Sunday, he could be making his first NFL start in 26 months.
''I've been contemplating a lot of different options,'' Freeman said. ''I was with the Dolphins in the offseason and in training camp and got released at the end of that. But I kind of said to myself, `I'm a football player and I still have a lot to give this game.'''
With their faint playoff hopes and their coach's job possibly on the line Sunday against Tennessee, the Colts (7-8) have been dealt a tough hand.
Coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Wednesday that starting quarterback Andrew Luck will miss his seventh straight game with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. Third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst was already out after landing on injured reserve Monday with a bad hamstring.
Matt Hasselbeck, the 40-year-old backup who is 5-3, is considered doubtful with an injured throwing shoulder. He said he felt better than expected and remains hopeful of playing even after missing Wednesday's practice.
With Indy's top three quarterbacks hurt and only the unproven Stephen Morris left on the roster, Indy dug deep and found two free agents who could help them out: Freeman and former Arizona draft pick Ryan Lindley. Both are scrambling to learn the playbook and trying to win the starting job if Hasselbeck can't play.
''They navigated themselves through the practice and did a great job, a pretty darn good job for two guys who haven't been here very long,'' Pagano said. ''They both have 25, 30 snaps under their belt and that's the body of work we have right now.''
They also have some tape, particularly of Freeman, the man who went from Buccaneers' cornerstone to out of a job in seemingly no time.
Tampa Bay took the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Kansas State star with the 17th overall draft pick in 2009. Seven games into his rookie season, Freeman was named the starter and even though he went 3-6, the Bucs liked what they saw. In 2010, Freeman flourished, throwing for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions as Tampa Bay went 10-6 and nearly made the playoffs.
Then things fell apart.
Over the next two seasons, Freeman threw 39 interceptions and went 11-20. By 2013, the Bucs decided to go in a different direction. They drafted Mike Glennon in the third round, benched Freeman after three games and cut him in early October. Four days later, he signed with Minnesota, who gave him one more start in October 2013 and he hasn't played in an NFL game since then.
It hasn't been for lack of effort.
Freeman signed with the New York Giants in 2014 but never made it to training camp. He signed with Miami in early 2015 but didn't make the roster and wound up playing for the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League. He played five games in Brooklyn, hoping an NFL team might notice he could still play at a high enough level.
The Colts did.
''I was gearing up for the holidays in Kansas City and continuing to work out when they called,'' Freeman said. ''That's the thing with this game, when you're a free agent you have to stay in shape and you have to be ready to go because you just never know.''
And now, two guys who weren't even in the league Sunday are cramming for Tennessee (3-12) and hoping a win will remind people of the skills they still possess.
''Early in my career, I played in a system similar to this and I loved it,'' Freeman said. ''You know, I love playing football and I'm really glad these guys brought me in.''
NOTES: Luck said he had been hopeful of returning this week but has not yet been cleared by doctors to start doing team work. Now he's looking toward coming back during the playoffs - if the Colts make it. ... Pagano, whose contract expires after the season, insisted he's fighting hard to remain Colts coach next season. ... Tight end Dwayne Allen missed practice with an ankle injury and was later put on injured reserve. Indy replaced Allen by promoting tight end Erik Swoope from the practice squad. ... Other players who sat out were safety Colt Anderson (ankle), linebacker Trent Cole (concussion), safety Winston Guy (hamstring), receiver Donte Moncrief (toe) and cornerback Darrius Butler (hip and knee) did not practice. ... Luck, tight end Jack Doyle (toe), receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) and linebacker Erik Walden (foot) were listed as limited participants.
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