Two familiar faces are out of work

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Two familiar faces are out of work

From Comcast SportsNetINDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Dwight Freeney and Austin Collie were not expected to be back with the Indianapolis Colts next season.On Friday, the team made it official by issuing a statement saying it would not re-sign Freeney, the Colts' career sacks leader, or Collie, a key player in their second Super Bowl run since moving to Indy. Both will now become unrestricted free agents."Sadly, Dwight and Horseshoe parting ways," team owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter after the team confirmed the moves.It's the second straight year Indy's offseason has started with the departure of some familiar faces and fan favorites.Last year, the Colts released four-time MVP Peyton Manning in early March. A few days later, they cut running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt and tight end Dallas Clark. Right tackle Ryan Diem retired and a handful of players including receiver Pierre Garcon and center Jeff Saturday left in free agency. It looked like the Colts might also lose Pro Bowlers Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, too, but Indy re-signed both players and both again made the Pro Bowl team in 2012.Indy then drafted Andrew Luck and two tight ends and a receiver in the first three rounds, signed free agents Donnie Avery, Winston Justice and Samson Satele and found enough replacements to post an 11-5 mark and return to the playoffs.The moves left the Colts with little salary cap room last season. With the Colts projected to have more than 40 million available under the cap when free agency opens in a couple of weeks, the decisions this time had nothing to do with money.Freeney turns 33 next week, has seen his sacks totals decline each of the past three years, counted more than 17 million against the cap last season and never seemed comfortable after moving from a 4-3 defensive end, where he spent his first 10 NFL seasons, to a 3-4 outside linebacker.He was the 11th overall selection in the 2002 draft, the first with former coach Tony Dungy on board, and some critics considered the selection a reach. All Freeney did, though, was make 378 tackles, set Indy's career record with 107 sacks, forced 44 fumbles and combined with Mathis to form one of the most fearsome pass-rush tandems in the league. The forced fumbles were the most by any NFL player since 2002 and he's one of 13 players in Colts' history to participate in more than 100 wins."Few people have meant as much to the success of the Indianapolis Colts as Dwight Freeney," Irsay said in a statement. "He has been a dominant player, which is all the more impressive considering his size for his position, and he has won a lot of games for this franchise. Dwight was an artist, a joy to watch, and the dedication he put toward his craft was a rare quality. We will miss him, but look forward to his future induction into the Hall of Fame and Colts Ring of Honor."Collie's problem was injuries.Despite being a reliable slot receiver during his first two seasons, he wound up on season-ending injured reserve in September with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. And there was even more concern over a series of concussions that ended his 2011 season and plagued the early part of the 2012 season, too. Some even debated whether the Colts should cut Collie to keep him safe.He thanked the fans on his Twitter page."Sad day for me and my fam. It was a g8 4 yrs," Collie wrote. "Can't thnk u all enough 4 ur hospitality and support. Blessed to have been a part of this org."---------------------Charles Woodson is on the market.The Green Bay Packers released the 36-year-old defensive back Friday with two years left on his contract."We are grateful for all that Charles has given to the Green Bay Packers over the past seven years," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He has been an integral part of the Packers' success and our Super Bowl title in 2010 would not have been possible without his contributions. A once-in-a-generation talent as a player, he is also a great leader and ambassador for the organization off the field."The Packers clear about 10 million in cap space by releasing Woodson. Carl Poston, Woodson's agent, said the veteran wasn't done yet."The Packers told Charles they're going in a different direction," Poston said. "Charles told me he still wants to play -- for a Super Bowl contender."Woodson signed a five-year deal before the 2010 season that was worth as much as 55 million. He missed nine games during the 2012 regular season because of a broken right collarbone and played in two postseason games for the Packers in his seventh year with the franchise."We had a good run," Woodson wrote to ESPNWisconsin.com in a text message.Woodson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him out of Michigan with the No. 4 overall pick.He's the only player in NFL history with touchdowns off interceptions in six straight seasons, a feat he pulled off each year from 2006 to 2011, and leads the league with nine touchdowns off interceptions since 2006. He went to the Pro Bowl every year from 2008-11.Woodson was productive for the Packers, but they have some tough decisions to make this offseason to manage the salary cap. Woodson had a year left on his lucrative deal and linebacker A.J. Hawk is under contract next year for a team that probably wants to give long-term deals to receiver James Jones, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji because each of the relatively young standouts could potentially be free agents following next season.Despite his age and recent injury, Woodson will likely be an in-demand free agent. He was injured last October, bounced back in time to defend two passes in the playoffs."Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," Hawk said in January. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."Woodson had a career-high nine interceptions in 2009 and picked off seven passes in 2011 and made one interception in seven games during last year's injury-shortened season.The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner led Michigan to the 1997 national championship and has donated more than 2 million to the University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital, where he supports pediatric clinical research. With the Packers, he was a leader as one of the best players on the team and as a mentor to younger players.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.