Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard missed much of the 2022 season with a back injury, hence why he only played three games (starting just one).
But apparently, Leonard now appears to be on an upward trend in his recovery.
The Herald Bulletin’s George Bremer tweeted that Colts head coach Shane Steichen told him Shaq Leonard is ‘progressing well’ during the first week of off-season workouts at the team facility. Bremer also noted that Steichen said he would “not going to put a timetable on the all-pro linebacker’s recovery.”
One interesting point Bremer made at the end of his tweet was that he described Leonard’s rehabilitation process as the “biggest offseason story outside of QB.”
That’s because Leonard is a two-time First-Team AP All-Pro (2020-21) and ranks among the NFL’s top linebackers when healthy.
In 61 career games, Leonard has 549 total tackles (30 for a loss), 15 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions and 31 passes broken up.
Although the 2022 season was difficult due to multiple quarterback benchings, controversial coaching changes and a 4-12-1 record, Leonard’s absence had a weighing presence on the Colts.
Earlier this offseason, Leonard credited interim head coach Jeff Saturday for shutting him down and holding him back from risking further injury.
Zaire Franklin Breaks Down Leonard’s Recovery, Progress
Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin had his name called early and often last season due to Leonard’s injury. Not only did Franklin meet expectations, but he defied them as he led the team and ranked fourth in the NFL with 167 total tackles.
Franklin started all 17 games in 2022 for the first time in his career. Franklin said that he’s looking forward to starting alongside Leonard for a full year.
“Obviously having a guy like him back is going to make a whole lot of things better,” Leonard said to Bremer. “I know he’s feeling good about his progress.”
One can only imagine the stats Franklin and Leonard would put up in a full season. While it’s been months since they played alongside each other, they’re keeping their chemistry strong this off-season.
According to Horseshoe Huddle’s Jake Arthur, Franklin and Leonard have spent time working out in Tampa.
“They put in a ton of work [this off-season],” Arthur tweeted. “Certainly sounds optimistic and (Franklin) had a big smile when he talked about Leonard eventually returning.”
Colts team reporter Larra Overton clarified that both players took part in 5:30 a.m. workouts but had individual workout plans. She also shared in a tweet that Franklin said Leonard was “getting after it” during his rehab.
Zaire Franklin Talks Bobby Okereke’s Departure, E.J. Speed’s Return
The Colts’ linebacker corps has slightly reshuffled this off-season.
Linebacker Bobby Okereke, who started opposite of Franklin last season while Leonard was out, took a payday and signed with the New York Giants on a four-year deal earlier this off-season.
Another Colts free agent linebacker, E.J. Speed, did the opposite of Okereke and remained with the team. Speed inked a two-year deal worth up to $8 million.
Now that the Colts’ linebacker corps is being figured out for 2023, Franklin said he’s happy for both Okereke and Speed as well as the situations they’ve ended up in.
“It’s always good when the boys get paid,” Franklin said according to a tweet by The Athletic’s James Boyd. “[Okereke’s] a hell of a player. Definitely somebody I miss in the building… Obviously [I] was big on getting Speed back.”
Speed returning to Indianapolis might be a more notable outcome than some think, as Leonard alluded to.
Last season, Speed entered the year in a reserve/special teamer role. But due to injuries and his play, he earned five starts — the most in a season so far in his career.
He made the most of it, too, putting up 63 total tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack.