Chris Ballard On Shaquille Leonard's Status, Why Sam Ehlinger Made The Roster, Offensive Line Depth And More

The Colts GM met with the media a week and a half before the 2022 season kicks off in Houston against the Texans on Sept. 11. 

Shaquille Leonard

Shaquille Leonard Update

The Colts removed the three-time first-team All-Pro from the PUP list before Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline for roster cuts – had he remained on PUP, he would've not counted toward the 53-man roster but would've missed at a minimum the first four games of the 2022 season.

Leonard, who underwent a back procedure in June, participated in Wednesday's practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Ballard figured it was the first time Leonard practiced since the end of the 2021 season – he was held back during OTAs and then was on PUP during training camp.

"He's got to get his body ready to play," Ballard said. "You can't miss all that time and just go to being game ready. You got to practice, we've got to get some work in, so that's what he'll do. I can't give you a timeline. Maybe Week 1, maybe Week 6. We'll work and we'll deal with it however we got to deal with."

Ballard praised Leonard's dedication to the recovery process – he's been showing up at 5:45 a.m., be it to Grand Park or the Colts' facility, to spend extra time rehabbing, working out and meeting with coaches. Wednesday was the "next step," Ballard said, in that process by getting him back on the practice field.

But Ballard stressed there's no timetable right now for Leonard's return.

"We'll work together with our training staff, doctors and we'll all make a decision on when we think is the best time based on how practice is going," Ballard said.

Why Sam Ehlinger Made The Roster

Ehlinger completed 24 of 29 passes for 289 yards (10 yards/attempt) with four touchdowns – good for a passer rating of 147.8 – and rushed six times for 71 yards with a touchdown over three preseason games.

So the explanation is simple: Ehlinger absolutely earned his spot on the 53-man roster.

"He played his way on," Ballard said. "He's a good player. He played good. We had a feeling he would because he works so hard at it and he's so diligent in his process of how he prepares. Then he takes feedback really well. When we talked after the season about things he needed to get better at, you tell him and he goes and works at it. We think Sam has a really bright future."

One of those things the Colts told Ehlinger to work on was his arm strength, and at the recommendation of Ballard, the second-year Texas quarterback started working with the renowned quarterback guru in March.

"I'm just scratching the surface," Ehlinger said after the Colts' second preseason game, in which he launched a 50-yard touchdown to wide receiver Dezmon Patmon. "It's kind of a two-year plan to kind of - there's a lot of neurological things that I'm fighting. When you're out on the field, and the chaos around you increases, naturally, you're going to revert back to whatever your nerve wirings in your brain want you to do when you say, 'throw the football.' So, I'm fighting what I've been doing for years and thousands of reps. It takes about two years to break those things down. I definitely feel like I have made progress in that aspect and then also in the offense. I'm very comfortable with the offense and getting comfortable with defenses."

Maybe carrying three quarterbacks isn't how teams would usually go about constructing a 53-man roster; teams usually don't have three quarterbacks as good as Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Ehlinger.

So when Ballard was asked if he thought cutting Ehlinger – and exposing him to the waiver wire – would've meant losing him, he quickly replied: "I have no question."

French Fries And The State Of The O-Line Depth

The Colts on Wednesday claimed tackle Luke Tenuta off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. Tenuta, a sixth-round pick of the Bills earlier this year, has collegiate experience playing both left tackle and right tackle. He played the most snaps of any rookie offensive lineman (152) this preseason, including 29 at left tackle and 123 at right tackle.

And it was notable that about an hour after Ballard said "We like Dennis (Kelly). I think that one will play out, but we like Dennis," that the Colts re-signed the 10-year veteran swing tackle.

So the Colts' offensive line room now has five starters (Matt Pryor, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Danny Pinter, Braden Smith) and five reserves (Wesley French, Will Fries, Dennis Kelly, Bernhard Raimann, Luke Tenuta). This after the initial – emphasis on initial – 53-man roster only had eight offensive linemen on it.

"We think Will Fries took some good steps," Ballard said. "We feel good about Wesley French, (he) was a good find by our scouts, the scouts did a really good job. He gives you guard/center flexibility that we like. We like the progress that Bernhard is making. We thought he really came on. He gave up the one sack this past week but the rest of the game was really good. We feel good about where we're at and the depth. They're young, but that's not a bad thing."

Or, as Ballard later said about the youth on his O-line: "They don't become veterans unless they play."

The Colts returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for practice on Wednesday.

Other news & notes

  • Safety Trevor Denbow was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, and while Ballard said he didn't know an exact timeline, he didn't think the undrafted rookie from SMU would be out the whole year.
  • Ballard gave a succinct answer when asked if the Colts would still look at kickers after Rodrigo Blankenship beat out Jake Verity for the team's kicking job: "Nope," Ballard said. "He's our guy."
  • On why the Colts released veteran running back Phillip Lindsay and kept second-year back Deon Jackson: "The special teams gave (Jackson) the nod without question and that's important," Ballard said. "We're not against bringing (Lindsay) back. We like Deon. We think he's explosive, he took another step, especially on special teams. Phillip's a good player but the special teams part of it tilted it more towards Deon."
  • Ballard emphasized that all of the Colts' roster cuts were hard, but losing linebacker Sterling Weatherford – who on Wednesday was claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bears – was tough. "That was a hard one losing Sterling, because we like Sterling," Ballard said.
  • The Colts, though, were happy to add linebacker Grant Stuard in a late-round pick swap with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday. "We lost some guys, so we've kind of been looking for that guy that can come in and fill that role," Ballard said. "Kind of like (Jordan) Glasgow did, Matt Adams. (Stuard) we think is pretty special on teams."

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