The hope is that Dwight Freeney will play in Sunday's Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts.

The plan is to play the game without him.

After Freeney missed all four practices last week, Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Monday the team was preparing to play without the injured All-Pro defensive end.

"He hasn't been practicing, so if he's not practicing, we are preparing to not have him," Caldwell told reporters after arriving in South Florida. "If he can't go, we'll do some rotations, and Raheem (Brock) will be a big part of that."

At Media Day on Tuesday, Freeney walked up to his podium with a limp. He was wearing flip flops and his ankle was noticeably swollen. He said the swelling is down from what it looked like last week when "it was swollen the size of a baseball."

Freeney is dealing with considerable ligament damage in the ankle, a source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora, and appears doubtful to recover in time for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. The Colts say that Freeney has a sprained right ankle, not a torn ligament, but Freeney on Tuesday said "it's a torn ligament in the outside part of my ankle."

Freeney said he is still "in a lot of pain," but did not count himself out of Sunday's game. He said by Friday or Saturday he should know "exactly where I'm at," or how much he will play, if he plays at all.

Freeney officially is listed as questionable on the Colts' injury report. Caldwell reiterated the team's position Monday, saying Freeney has a third-degree, low-ankle sprain and is improving.

One week after team president Bill Polian said Freeney would play, he now says the player's chance of seeing action was 50-50.

The Colts are trying to remain optimistic.

"I'm very hopeful he will play," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "He has special characteristics about him, and I'm counting on those this week."

Freeney also has a penchant for disproving conventional wisdom. From the moment the Colts drafted him with the No. 11 overall pick in 2002, some criticized the team for reaching on a player who had been described as a situational pass rusher. Freeney came off the bench for the first eight games in his rookie season and finished with 13 sacks. He became the first Colts player to win the NFL sacks title in 2004, with 16, and has produced at least 10 sacks in six of eight seasons.

Freeney has a rare combination of speed, leverage and uncanny spin moves, which makes life difficult for opponents. That's why the Saints would prefer seeing as little of the five-time Pro Bowl player as possible.

"Obviously, Dwight Freeney is a great player. Obviously, we would love for him not to play in the game," New Orleans running back Reggie Bush said. "But we're going to prepare like he's playing in the game. We're going to continue to chip block. We're going to continue to do whatever we can to keep the pressure off (Drew Brees)."

Freeney's teammates understand how big a blow Freeney's absence could be. They also are convinced that Brock, an eight-year veteran who has been a key part in Indianapolis' expanded blitz packages this season, would be a capable replacement.

"Of course you hope he'll be out there. You want to look to your right and see Dwight," defensive tackle Daniel Muir said. "Even with Dwight not out there, though, we've had success. It's next man up. If he can't go, we've got to pick up the bayonet and go."

That has been the Colts motto since former coach Tony Dungy arrived in 2002, and it has never been more imperative than this season. Indianapolis won its first 14 games despite losing starters Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson, Tyjuan Hagler and Kelvin Hayden for long stretches. Only Hayden has returned.

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Now, though, the concern is focused squarely on the Colts' most important defensive player and whether he'll be as effective -- if he plays at all.

"Dwight is playing, and he will be 100 percent by the game," Brackett said jokingly, poking fun at the intrigue before turning serious. "Honestly, I have no clue. But if anybody can come back from an injury, it's Dwight. He's had weird things all season. People said he would miss 10 weeks and then he plays in seven days."

The question is: Can Freeney do it again?

"It's a tough deal, but injuries happen in football. Come Sunday, I'm confident he'll be there," said Hayden, who's best remembered for scoring the game-sealing touchdown in the Colts' Super Bowl victory in Miami three years ago. "I'm kind of certain and confident that he'll be out there and that he'll be effective."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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