Colts’ Shaquille Leonard Sends Message to Critics, Rest of NFL

Shaquille Leonard

Getty Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard is getting closer to returning from his back injury.

A lot has been made on social media about Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard’s absence to begin this season.

Way back when the team announced he underwent back surgery on June 7, Colts head coach Frank Reich said that “if all goes according to plan” Leonard will be ready for the regular season opener.

Leonard returned to practice field the day after roster cut down day. That gave the Colts optimism that the 3-time first-team All-Pro would indeed play in Week 1.

But everything has not gone according to plan. Now several weeks later, Leonard still hasn’t made his 2022 debut. He’s missed the last 2 games despite practicing in full before each contest.

That’s made Leonard’s critics even louder. The linebacker told the media on September 29 that those critics have his attention.

“I’m going to say this because I’ve seen it all over social media,’’ Leonard said according to sports writer Mike Chappell of FOX59. “If I’m ready to go, I’m gonna play. Everybody knows me. I went out there last year with one ankle.

“I love this game, love this game with all my heart and I’ll do anything to play this game for a hundred years.’’

Leonard Showing Leadership on Sidelines During Games

Part of the social media criticism with Leonard has been how animated he’s been on the sideline during Indianapolis’ first few games.

He often doesn’t look like a man still recovering from back surgery.

This is the type of situation where Leonard quite simply can’t win. If he wasn’t on the sideline or didn’t show any emotion, then critics on social media would rip the linebacker for not caring.

In this case, he does care, obviously. That should be commended. CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz did compliment the linebacker during the Colts 20-17 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, calling Leonard a great leader for his emotional investment in the team’s game despite not playing.

Jumping and caring on along the sideline is obviously much different than playing in a game. According to Leonard, so is practicing.

“Practicing for four weeks, people gotta understand that you know that that first week there’s just nothing but stiffness,” Leonard told the media. “Second week, ‘OK, now let me see how I can cover ground.’ Third week, ‘OK, let me see how can I tackle. Can I tackle in space? Can I move left or right? Can I do things I know I’m supposed to do?’

“That’s what it all comes down to. It’s not just me practicing. Yes, I’ve practiced full. But you’ve got to know in depth why am I practicing? Why am I just practicing and why am I not playing?

“If I’m able to play, I’m out there and I’m giving it everything I’ve got. If I can’t, y’all gotta respect that. I can’t put this team in jeopardy of losing, knowing that I’m out there, knowing that they’re better with me standing on the sideline.’’

Leonard Again Practicing in Full Ahead of Week 4

While it’s frustrating for some Colts fans to still see Leonard on the sideline during games, it’s still good news that he’s practicing.

Indianapolis could have placed Leonard on injured reserve to begin the season, which would have allowed the Colts to retain an extra defender on the active roster. But had he been placed on IR, Leonard would not have been allowed to practice until after Week 4.

So, in some ways, had the Colts gone down that route, Leonard wouldn’t have begun his practice rehabilitation until early October.

Instead, the 3-time All-Pro linebacker again has a shot to play in Week 4. His presence would be a huge lift for the Colts seeking to move above .500 and defeat the Tennessee Titans for the first time since November 2020.

Leonard practiced in full on September 28 and 29.

For the first 3 weeks of the season, the Colts ruled out Leonard on Friday before the game. That doesn’t mean Indianapolis will follow the same pattern for Week 4, but in all likelihood, a decision about Leonard’s playing status will come before the start of the weekend.

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