What should fans make of Shaquille Leonard’s first game back with the Colts?

After a long, injury-filled journey, Shaquille Leonard returned to the field in a real game for the Indianapolis Colts. How did the star linebacker look?
Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts lost their season opener to the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-21. Despite extending a winless Week 1 streak to 10 years, there were some good things that happened in the game for Indianapolis. The promising performance of rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was certainly one of those things. Star linebacker Shaquille Leonard playing in the game, and finishing healthy was another good thing that happened for the Colts.

Last season, Leonard was limited to just 74 snaps over three games because of two back surgeries and a concussion. He’s been very open about the challenging road that he’s been on. Entering the 2023 season, Leonard’s goals were to get back on the field, and to look like the elite version of himself. On Sunday, he accomplished the first part, playing 60 of Indy’s 70 defensive snaps. But, how did he look?

How did Shaquille Leonard look in his return for Colts?

Again, Leonard wasn’t on the field for every snap, as Indianapolis is being smart about how the team ramps him up. Still, Leonard finished with the second-most tackles for the team, trailing only Zaire Franklin who had 18. Leonard had eight tackles and one tackle for a loss.

If you were watching Leonard throughout the game, you’ll probably say that he’s not quite back to the elite version of himself yet, but he’s definitely getting there. What was great to see is that Leonard seemed to improve each series. He was a better linebacker by the end of the game than he was at the start. He was reacting quicker, running faster, and hitting harder. That’s the kind of gradual improvement you expect from someone who’s been away for a while.

This is also the assessment that Leonard gave himself. Speaking postgame, Leonard said, “For me, it was the second half. I kind of got settled when I started seeing things and started playing to my ability and that was just a blessing. Just getting back out there and making plays for this team.”

The biggest play that he made was in the second quarter, when he got a tackle for a loss. Leonard was moving towards the line of scrimmage before the ball was even snapped, shot the gap, and took down the running back for a four-yard loss. That’s likely the moment when fans rejoiced that the Maniac was back. That’s also when Leonard looked over to Franklin and said, “Yeah, that felt good.”