- Associated Press - Monday, August 5, 2013

ANDERSON, IND. (AP) - Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were virtually inseparable as Colts teammates.

Over the last decade, they shared a Super Bowl title, went to four Pro Bowls together, combined for nearly 200 sacks and became one of the NFL’s most feared defensive tandems. Freeney taught Mathis the spin move and the art of a strip sack, and Mathis responded with results that were every bit as good _ and sometimes better _ than his mentor. They became best buddies.

Now, for the first time in their pro careers, Mathis and Freeney have been split up. And breaking up is hard to do.

Freeney is on the West Coast getting accustomed to a new team and a new way of doing business, while Mathis is back home in Indiana, coping with his first training camp without Freeney.

“It’s weird. It’s really, really weird,” Mathis said. “It’s something you have to get used to because for a decade, we’ve been talking together at camp.”

Until now, Freeney had been the unquestioned spokesmen for Indy’s defense, the guy Mathis could always go to when he had a question or needed some advice. After all, Freeney was the Colts’ career leader in sacks, the first player in franchise history to win a sacks crown and a seven-time Pro Bowler who was an established fan favorite.

Mathis, a five-time Pro Bowler, always seemed to come in a close second.

Their friendship managed to survive despite that one-two image, despite the injuries, even despite the great Colts purge of 2011 that claimed so many of their close friends _ Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday.

Last season, things began to change on the field.

When coach Chuck Pagano installed his version of the 3-4 defense that had been so successful in Baltimore, he decided to move both pass-rushing ends to rush linebackers.

While Mathis embraced his role and became increasingly more productive, Freeney never quite fit in. He looked uncomfortable in pass coverage and his spin move wasn’t nearly as effective. So at age 33 with his contract expiring and three consecutive seasons of declining numbers, Indy general manager Ryan Grigson made the decision to break up the tandem.

The Colts honored Freeney by posting the words “thanks for the memories” across his poster outside Lucas Oil Stadium, just like they had with Manning and Clark.

It wasn’t easy on anyone.

“They built, as Robert said, a friendship, a brotherhood if you will,” Pagano said. “There’s a certain comfort zone. One knew the other one was always going to be there. That relationship, this game, we always talk about this game will fade at some point for all of us, but the relationships will never fade. I know Robert and Dwight’s relationship will never fade and that’s something that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”

And, of course, they’ve kept the lines of communication open.

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