CLEVELAND — The Indianapolis Colts need all the defensive firepower they can get in today's Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, who own the NFL's top rushing attack.
And while the defense certainly took a hit on Friday, when head coach Frank Reich announced that Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard would be held out against the Browns due to a groin injury, the Colts did get some good news on that front just before kickoff today.
Starting linebacker Anthony Walker, who has been battling an ankle injury and was labeled questionable on Friday, is officially active for today's game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Those who are inactive for the Colts today include Leonard, defensive tackle Eli Ankou, defensive end Ron'Dell Carter, tackle Anthony Castonzo, quarterback Jacob Eason, wide receiver Dezmon Patmon and tight end Noah Togiai.
Indianapolis (3-1) had serious questions at the linebacker position this past week, as all three starting linebackers — Leonard, Walker and Bobby Okereke — found themselves on the injury report; a fourth linebacker, E.J. Speed, was also listed this past week with an elbow injury.
Leonard suffered a groin injury just before halftime of last week's Week 4 road victory over the Chicago Bears and did not return; he missed all three Browns practices this past week and hopes to return to the lineup as soon as possible.
Okereke on Monday underwent surgery to correct a thumb injury; he did not participate in practice on Wednesday, but was a full participant on Thursday and Friday, when he donned a club-like cast on his left hand.
Walker, meanwhile, initially appeared on the injury report on Thursday, when he missed practice with an ankle issue; he was able to be a limited participant in Friday's practice, however, and was officially labeled questionable for today's game.
With Leonard out and Walker active today, the Colts could possibly utilize Walker, usually the starter at MIKE linebacker, in Leonard's WILL linebacker spot, while Okereke, usually the starter at SAM linebacker, can take over at the MIKE.
Zaire Franklin, who played two defensive snaps last week against the Bears, could also be a candidate to take over at SAM linebacker today.
The Colts also have two other linebackers — Speed and rookie Jordan Glasgow — available on the active roster if needed.
The Indy defense, which entered today's Week 5 action ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense, and fourth against the run, has perhaps its toughest challenge of the season to this point today against the Browns, who average a league-best 204.5 rushing yards per game.
While Browns starting running back Nick Chubb is out today with a knee injury, the team still has plenty of firepower at the position in Kareem Hunt (50 carries, 275 yards, three touchdowns) and D'Ernest Johnson (14 carries, 100 yards).
Without Leonard, Reich said the Colts are really going to have to be on top of their game up front today.
"They make it hard on you, because they have a variety of schemes that they're good at," Reich told Colts.com's Matt Taylor on Friday. "So we have to play disciplined, aggressive football. And we have plans, we have keys — how do you identify your keys that really trigger the assignment and what we need to get done on defense? So it's a question of how fast and how well we execute on our keys in order to stop their run game."