By: Will Burchfield
In setting the bar low, Dwight Freeney still set it high.
Asked how many snaps he expects to play for the Lions, who claimed him off waivers last week, the 37-year-old defensive end suggested a range of 35 to 60 per game. It won’t be the latter, of course.
But will it even be the former?
“It’s pretty much up to the coaching staff. It’s whatever they want,” Freeney said on Monday. “I’m here just filling in and helping out however I can. I’ve had the years when I’ve played 50, 60 snaps and it’s a wear and tear on the body, and I trained for that if they need me. But if they don’t need it then, hey, it’s okay. I’m alright. If you want to have me 35, 40 plays, I’m okay with that.”
Maybe it was his adrenaline talking, the veteran invigorated by a new opportunity, but Freeney made 35 to 40 snaps per game sound like a breeze. Truth is, he hasn’t been within that range since the 2014 season with the Chargers when he averaged 35.8 snaps over 16 games.
That was the last gasp of the workhorse that for years played 50-plus snaps per game for the Colts. Freeney averaged 23.3 snaps over 11 games with the Cardinals in 2015, 27.7 snaps over 15 games with the Falcons in 2016 and 25.3 snaps over four games with the Seahawks in 2017.
In gauging how much he’ll play for the Lions, 35 snaps per game isn’t so much a reasonable minimum but a wild maximum. Especially early, as Freeney adjusts to the Lions’ defense, anything over 20 per game seems like a stretch.
“You have to learn new teammates, new scheme, how they’re going to use you and knowing the right intricate little details that you just knew when you were on the Colts for so many years,” Freeney said. “There’s little things that you have to play catch-up, and it’s really catch-up now because it’s December and these are when the games count twice. They mean so much more, so it’s time to be ready and get things going.”
Freeny feels he has plenty left to give — “That’s the reason I’m still playing,” he said — and his performance in Seattle bore that out. In four games he tallied three sacks, a total surpassed by only two Lions players this season.
“He’s still got juice,” said Jim Caldwell. “You take a look, he’s been productive anytime that he’s been on the field, and we’ll expect him to be productive for us as well. How will we use him? We’ll make a real good determination of that as we go through the week, but he’ll be able to do something for us.”
Among Detroit’s defensive ends, Anthony Zettel sees the most action. He averages 44.7 snaps per game, a number that’s spiked to 58 over the last three weeks. Ziggy Ansah ranks second with 36.1 snaps per game and Cornelius Washington ranks third with 32.7. Jeremiah Valoaga, the player that Freeney essentially replaced on the Lions’ roster, was averaging 17 snaps per game.
Compared to his prime, Freeney admitted that it takes his body longer to recuperate from game to game. (“Especially when you get older, the recovery doesn’t work the same way,” he said. “For me, I start feeling good on Friday.”) The same is likely true from play to play.
It will behoove the Lions to keep his snap count down so that they get the most out of him when he’s on the field. Of course, they need to play him enough so that he can make a difference. Freeney can provide a real boost for a team that ranks 21st in the NFL in sacks, but the coaches will have to find the sweet spot in terms of usage.
Once he gets up to speed with the defense, 20 to 25 snaps per game sounds about right.