Shaquille Leonard has experienced a close relationship with injuries over the past year, which has led to growing frustration. Despite his return to the field, playing in seven out of Indianapolis’ first eight games this season, Leonard is displeased with the limited playing time he’s been given.
In his own words, Leonard expressed his frustration to reporters on Thursday, stating, “I just feel like each week I prove who I am. The way I play the game is getting better and better each week. But they say I don’t make enough splash plays, so I guess I’ll still be watching for a bit.”
The reduced number of snaps for Leonard can be attributed to his ongoing battle with a groin injury and persistent back irritation stemming from a previous injury that limited him to just three games in 2022. The Colts had a plan in place for the 2023 season to gradually increase Leonard’s participation, taking his back issue into consideration. This resulted in a significant reduction in his snaps, with a season-low 36 snaps in Week 4, accounting for 46.2 percent of the Colts’ total defensive plays, following an initial 85.5 percent in Week 1.
Leonard had targeted the month of November for feeling fully fit, but he is concerned that the coaching staff may not share his optimism about his progress. He shared, “More me personally, I think so. For myself, I don’t think that they think that. (My snap counts will likely) be similar, maybe even worse. I’m just going to go out and play as many plays as I can play. Just go from there.”
In his conversation with reporters, Leonard’s frustration with his current role was evident as he struggled to find ways to earn more opportunities. Currently, he accepts that he won’t be a primary player in Indianapolis’ defense and will share playing time with fellow linebacker E.J. Speed, who is having a strong season.
While Leonard acknowledged that the coaching staff had communicated their plans to him, he was not pleased with the outcome. He said, “I kind of know a little bit. They’ll tell me if I’m going to split reps with E.J. on first and second (down). I know I’m not in on third down. Kind of know exactly what it is. Like it or not, it is what it is.”
It’s important to emphasize that Leonard is not being sidelined in Indianapolis; he has played 72.3 percent of defensive snaps this season. The Colts are simply being cautious due to his recent injury history. However, Leonard’s competitive spirit drives his desire for more playing time to prove that his health concerns are a thing of the past. For now, he aims to make the most of the opportunities he’s given, with the hope that his coaches will trust him with more snaps in the future. Until that happens, Leonard can only control what he does on the field.