Even with Zaire Franklin sidelined, Colts didn’t give Shaquille Leonard a bigger role

Linebacker Shaquille Leonard has been vocal about his desire to play more, but the Indianapolis Colts are committed to a plan to gradually bring Leonard along.
Nov 5, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53)
Nov 5, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The last two weeks, Indianapolis Colts star linebacker Shaquille Leonard has been very honest with the media about his desire to be on the field without restrictions. After two back surgeries, and missing nearly all of last season, the Colts have a plan to gradually bring Leonard along, monitoring his snaps. The issue is that Leonard and the organization aren’t on the same page.

Shaq argues that he’s ready, the organization says he isn’t. The organization says that Leonard isn’t making enough splays plays, he says it’s because of his role in the scheme. The linebacker and the franchise just can’t agree right now, though, they both ultimately want the same thing: a healthy and thriving Leonard.

It seemed like Sunday would be the day that Leonard had the opportunity to prove himself to the franchise. Standout mike linebacker Zaire Franklin was out for the Week 9 game against the Carolina Panthers. Since Leonard and Franklin are the top two linebackers, many assumed that Leonard would bump over to mike for the game, be the center of the defense, and have a game where he could showcase what he’s been saying.

That didn’t happen. Leonard remained at the will linebacker spot, splitting reps with EJ Speed, and Segun Olubi started at mike, playing every defensive snap in place of Zaire Franklin.

Colts aren’t waivering on their plan for Shaquille Leonard

There are a couple of reasons why Indianapolis could’ve taken this approach. It could be possible that Indy isn’t training its linebackers at both mike and will. On some teams, the linebackers learn all the LB spots so that they could lineup at anywhere if needed. Indy hasn’t said this was the case, but it’s a possibility, because Olubi is always listed as the No. 2 mike linebacker.

It’s also possible that the Colts just weren’t ready to remove Leonard’s restrictions and throw him directly into all of the action as the mike linebacker. Even with Leonard making this whole situation something that everyone is now paying attention to, Indy could simply be unmoved, sticking to its plan.

The good news, though, is that Leonard had a productive game. Playing just 39 snaps, 55% of Indy’s defensive snaps on Sunday, Leonard led the team with 10 total tackles. That’s a pretty good day in general, but especially since he was playing from the will position for just over half of the game. With Week 10 approaching, and a Week 11 bye for the Colts, Leonard’s snaps will either be increased in the coming weeks or he’ll have limited snaps all season.