Leonard practices but status for Colts opener still unclear

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard looks like his old self at practice.

Whether the three-time All-Pro gets a chance to show fans what he can do Sunday at Houston remains a mystery.

Leonard acknowledged Thursday he’s feeling better as he builds practice time even as the Colts express caution about one of their key players for the season opener.

“We’ll make sure that we make the right decision,” Leonard said before practice. “I don’t want to go out there and hurt the team. So if I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ll be ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

Leonard has dealt with an injured ankle since his rookie season. He had offseason surgery before last season and in June had back surgery to alleviate the lingering pain.

The result: Leonard didn’t work out with teammates from January’s season finale until he was activated from the physically unable to perform list last week.

Since then, Leonard has been listed as a full participant at each Colts practice though the team’s bigger concern is whether he can play his usual ball-hawking role for four quarters. And with 16 more games to play after Sunday, the Colts don’t want to rush one of their biggest stars into action.

“Sometimes you get these guys who are superstar players — I shouldn’t use that word — but players like Shaq where you say, ‘Hey, we never do this, but we might do it for him,’” coach Frank Reich said Wednesday. “I typically would think I would need more than three practices, but I don’t know. Could he practice three practices in a row and play 15 plays in the game? Maybe.”

Leonard’s energy certainly would give the Colts defense a boost.

Everyone from new quarterback Matt Ryan to Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner raves about the difference Leonard makes when he’s around.

Still, while Leonard acknowledged he’d do whatever the coaches ask, he doesn’t relish the notion of playing a limited role as Indy tries to snap an eight-game, opening day losing streak.

“If I’m up, I’m up,” he said. “If I’m playing, I want the reps. I’m not a guy who likes standing on the sideline, watching the guys play.”

Leonard ranks second in the NFL in tackles (538) and has the most interceptions by a linebacker (five) since he entered the league in 2018. Last season, his six takeaways were tied for sixth in the league.

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