Josh McNary to get first NFL start

Colts' second-year linebacker will fill in for injured Jerrell Freeman against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

Two years ago, he was wearing a camouflage uniform for the U.S. Army. On Monday night, Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Josh McNary will make his first NFL start.

Coach Chuck Pagano ruled out starter Jerrell Freeman Friday due to a hamstring injury. The team’s leading tackler the past two seasons had missed practice all week after suffering the injury late in Week 1’s 31-23 loss at Denver.

McNary, who has eight games experience as a reserve, had two tackles in the opener. While he plays inside, the Colts like him for his pass-rush skills — he is Army’s all-time leader in sacks with 28.

“I definitely feel ready,” he said Saturday. “We only get a week to prepare for each team anyways and I’ve had that entire week. I’ve been in the system for a good amount of time now. I’m pretty solid on everything.”

Linebackers have had trouble in coverage during the preseason and in the first game. Pagano said McNary actually has an edge when it comes to covering tight ends in the secondary.

“From an athletic standpoint, Josh is as athletic of a linebacker as we have,” the coach said. “The guy can flat out run and cover. ‘Free’ has got more experience on him. Free’s got more snaps on him. We’re going to miss Jerrell.

“But Josh will go in there and he’ll play good football. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s never perfect from anybody on either side of the ball, but he’ll make a ton of plays.”

McNary has been practicing with the first team all week.

“You always want that opportunity,” he said. “When you’re not starting, it’s something that you’re always striving for. So when you do get the opportunity, you want to make sure you do what you can with it, maximize it and not look back.”

The Colts (0-1) need this game against the high-powered Eagles (1-0). Teams that start 0-2 have reached the playoffs just 12 percent of the time since the current playoff format began in 1990. AFC South rivals Houston and Tennessee won their openers, too, so the prospect of possibly falling two games behind so early is also a concern for the two-time defending division champions.

“It all comes down to quick recognitions, making fast reads and executing,” McNary said of the Eagles, who led the NFL in rushing a year ago and run an up-tempo offense with fast snaps that generated 420 total yards in a 34-17 opening win over Jacksonville at home.

“Being comfortable and confident in what you see and what you break down and just go ahead and execute at full speed. Because they’re coming at us full speed, we need to match that intensity.”

Pagano also ruled out reserve guard/tackle Joe Reitz (ankle). Center Khaled Holmes (ankle), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (shoulder) and nose tackle Josh Chapman (ankle) are questionable, although Jones has assured he will play. Safety Sergio Brown (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (ribs) are probable.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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