Dwight Freeney can’t wait to meet (and beat) rookie offensive tackles

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There were nine offensive tackles taken in the first four rounds of this year’s NFL draft.

Dwight Freeney would like to extend a personal welcome to each of them.

Of course, with Freeney, the Indianapolis Colts’ whirling dervish of a defensive end, there’s always a spin.

“I’m licking my chops,” he said, probably envisioning an even better year than he had last season, when he made 13½ sacks and helped lead his team to the Super Bowl.

“When you have a rookie offensive tackle, I can’t wait,” he said. “Because for an offensive tackle, you’re not good until you’re in like your eighth year. You’ve got to get beat up for a while to learn what to do and what not to. It’s when you’re about in your fifth through 10th years as an offensive tackle that you’re in your prime.

“All these rookies coming out? They don’t know anything. I can’t wait.”

If that’s the case, Freeney might want to circle Oct. 17 on his calendar. That’s when the Colts play a Sunday night game at Washington, when the Redskins presumably will have No. 4 pick Trent Williams lined up at left tackle. He’ll be protecting the blind side of Freeney’s fellow Syracuse alumnus Donovan McNabb.

Predictably, though, Freeney gets even more pleasure out of driving young quarterbacks into the turf.

“I couldn’t wait to hit Mark Sanchez,” he said. “And I can’t wait to hit Tim Tebow even more.”

Freeney has reached a significant milestone in his career. He turned 30 in February, an age when many players see their speed and statistics begin to dwindle. To combat that, he’s a workout freak who frequently sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, uses an electric muscle stimulation machine at home, and for the last few months has restricted his diet to buffalo steaks (seasoned only with sea salt) and green grapes.

He eats that for three meals a day, prompting the manager at the Four Seasons hotel in Westlake Village — Freeney’s summer home of choice on the West Coast — to joke that they keep an entire herd of buffalo on the grounds to keep the Colts star fed.

Freeney had double-digit sacks last season for the sixth time in his eight years as a pro. But he also felt the effects of age. He suffered an ankle injury in the AFC championship game against the Jets when he pulled up to avoid clobbering Sanchez. There was real doubt as to whether Freeney would be able to play against New Orleans in the Super Bowl and, in fact, he couldn’t practice with the team in the week leading to the game.

But Freeney did play, and had a memorable sack in the second quarter. He beat Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod to the inside and got to Drew Brees, using one hand to rip him down from behind.

It was one of the few highlights for Freeney, who said his ankle might have stayed loose in the third quarter but for the extra-long wait during the halftime show by the Who.

“My ankle completely seized up at halftime,” he said. “I didn’t start feeling decent until the fourth quarter.”

So some rockers in their 60s threw him off his game? Poetic justice. To them, he’s just a rookie.

Keeping Faith

Faith Hill recently shot her opening to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” at a studio in Hollywood.

Whereas last season’s version was essentially a concert intermingled with game footage, the latest intro features more than a dozen of the NFL’s most popular players and a little movie magic.

Shot at the studio were scenes of Chicago’s Brian Urlacher pinballing his way through the columns at Soldier Field (and cracking one with a mighty collision), Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson running to the top of the famed “Rocky” steps, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson sprinting past ice fishermen on a frozen lake, and Freeney swim-moving his way through a cornfield.

Freeney called being included in the commercial “a very select thing, an honor.”

“The Pro Bowl is still bigger because you’re getting voted in by your peers,” he said. “But with this, someone — whoever it is that makes those decisions — decided that you were one of the elite guys.”

Among the other players who will be featured are Peyton and Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward, Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Charles Woodson, Ray Lewis and Brees.

“We’re basically highlighting that ‘Sunday Night Football’ resonates throughout America, the biggest stars play on Sunday night,” SNF producer Fred Gaudelli said. “That’s the message we’re trying to send.”

Goodell camping

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell plans to hit several training camps this summer, traveling between them with John Madden on his “Madden Cruiser” bus. The trip is still in the planning stages.

It was Goodell who proposed the idea to Madden, now a special advisor to the commissioner, but the Hall of Fame coach instantly took to the plan.

“You talk about a captive audience,” Madden said. “I’ve got 40 years of ideas I want to run by him.”