The Indianapolis Colts made several important moves this offseason, including hiring head coach Shane Steichen and drafting quarterback Anthony Richardson. While those two should be very impactful for the Colts over the next decade, the offseason acquisition that should have the most immediate impact is health. Indy is getting some of its best players back this year, healthy.
Leading the charge is perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Shaquille Leonard. Multiple surgeries in 2022 led to Leonard playing just 74 snaps over three games last season. With all that he does for the Colts, his presence was missed. Now, starting the year on the field with Indy, players and coaches have already commented about the difference he’s making.
In a recent interview with NFL Network, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner explained that he believes in all of Indy’s linebackers, but it is a different feeling when Leonard is lined up behind him. Buckner explained that Leonard is the engine of the defense, and that his IQ and instincts makes the game easier for everyone on defense. He drove that point home by explaining how Leonard accurately told the defense what play was coming from the offense in practice.
Head coach Shane Steichen echoed those sentiments. He explained in an interview that it’s only been a few days, and Leonard is already calling out the offense’s plays. Steichen says that he knows first hand how hard it is to prepare for him, and that Leonard brings an energy that everyone feeds off.
Shaquille Leonard’s presence is felt in his return with Colts
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not only is Leonard a great player, but he’s a player that also has the ability to make people around him better. That was on display in 2021. So his energy being back on the field and with the team every step of the way is major.
Beyond his leadership, what he does as an off-ball linebacker is unmatched. The Colts had really good linebacker play in his absence last season with Zaire Franklin and Bobby Okereke. However, neither of them are Leonard. Shaq excels against the run, defending the pass, and most importantly, he has an uncanny ability to force turnovers.
If the version of Shaquille Leonard that’s on the field now for the Colts is similar to the 2021 version, the Colts defense will be fun, will take the ball away, and will make Indianapolis a competitive team in 2023.