Dwight Freeney in Good Spot to Prove 'Haters' Wrong, Lead Chargers to Super Bowl

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2014

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today

Dwight Freeney was asked a simple question: Are the San Diego Chargers a Super Bowl team?

"Yeah," he said. "We are."

This wasn't Freeney trash-talking. Not his style. Too classy for that. He also qualified his answer by saying that a number of teams this time of year think they're Super Bowl caliber. But there's also no question that Freeney believes this Chargers team is special.

And he's right. It is.

"This is one of the most talented teams I've ever been a part of," the 12-year veteran said in an extensive interview with Bleacher Report. "We have some real depth on defense. This team is stacked. The biggest thing we're trying to do is be more consistent. We're going to play well against the good teams. Don't worry about that. But we need to play better against the teams that aren't so good.

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 24:  Ouside line backer Dwight Freeney #93 of the San Diego Chargers looks on during the second quarter of their preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on August 24, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Pho
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

"We're a Super Bowl team because we have the right mentality. There's a feeling on this team that this is our time."

Now, again, to be clear, Freeney wasn't guaranteeing a Super Bowl. He was saying what a number of people across the league believe: that the Chargers are a legitimate threat to win it all.

They are this way because of an offense that has numerous weapons, mainly quarterback Philip Rivers. They are also this way because of Freeney, who showed in the preseason what many of us thought he would months ago—and that's a rebirth. He is going to be a major factor this year on the Chargers.

To me, and many others who are watching him, the seven-time Pro Bowler is back. Though to Freeney himself, he never left.

"I'm going to prove the haters and doubters wrong," the 34-year-old said. "I like when the doubters try to say that I'm (not still) elite or that I'm too old. I'll use that."

Aug. 24, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by San Diego Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney (93) in the second quarter during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebi

"When I came out of college, I was told that I was too small to play in the NFL," Freeney continued. "I was told that I was just a pass-rush guy and couldn't do anything else. I've always had people tell me what I couldn't do and then I'd prove them wrong. I'm going to do (the) same this year."

What I've learned about Freeney in watching and getting to know him over the years is to never doubt him. At the moment, he is as motivated as I've ever seen him. 

It wouldn't stun me if he ended up as Defensive Player of the Year. Yeah, I said it.

He's coming off last year's quadriceps tear, but thus far Freeney has shown no loss of skill or speed. He knew he was fully recovered when, during the first week of camp, he beat offensive tackle King Dunlap on an edge rush. It was prototypical Freeney: the explosiveness, the shift in the hips, the burst—all there.

Freeney played seven snaps in Week 3's preseason game against San Francisco and finished with a tackle for a loss. He feels ready for the regular season.

One thing that still motivates Freeney is how he left the Colts. After they drafted him in 2002 and he played there for a decade, they simply let him walk. To this day, he's still slightly stunned by what happened.

"I was really surprised," he said, "but a part of me was just like, 'No offer even?' But I realized that if Peyton Manning can be let go, then anyone can be let go.

"When I left, it would have been nice to feel like I was still wanted. If someone said, 'We want you, but let's restructure your contract.' But I was just gone. Then, as it happens, another door opened for me here."

Freeney is doing as he has always done. He's provided leadership for the younger players while lending his speed and muscle to a franchise that might be on the verge of championship contention.

Everything seems to be pointing one way for Freeney, in a familiar direction. A direction he's seen before.

It is once again proving people wrong. This time, maybe in a Super way. 


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.