INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts on Thursday held their second of three days of on-field preparations for Sunday's Week 6 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. What were some of the top takeaways on the day? Here's today's Colts Notebook.
Here is the Colts' Thursday injury report:
— Some encouraging signs today on the injury front, as safety Julian Blackmon (groin) was able to go from not practicing Wednesday to a full participant on Thursday, defensive end Justin Houston (hip) went from DNP to limited and tackle Anthony Castonzo (rib) went from limited to full participation.
— Tackle Chaz Green (back; did not participate) was the only new addition to the Colts' injury report on Thursday.
Leonard feels 'very close' to return
The Colts last Sunday were without the services of All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who missed his first game of the year against the Cleveland Browns with a groin injury suffered the week prior in Indy's Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears.
Leonard still made the trip to Cleveland to provide emotional support for fellow linebackers Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke and Zaire Franklin, who each had notable performances; Walker and Okereke, both of whom were also on the injury report heading in, each had crucial second-half interceptions, while Franklin tallied seven total tackles on the day.
While Leonard isn't yet ready to declare whether or not he'll be able to return to the lineup this Sunday against the Bengals, he's encouraged by the progress he's made to this point.
"I think I'm very close honestly," Leonard said. "Do I know when? No. But I do feel close. I'm getting better and better each day."
Leonard said it was "definitely tough" watching last Sunday's loss to the Browns from the sidelines, especially considering the way the game unfolded.
"It was so tough, just standing on the sidelines, just watching your guys compete," Leonard said. "And me being a competitor, wanting to be out there, and then in the fourth quarter when things get in crunch time, that's when I feel like I want the pressure on me, I gotta make a play, and not being able to go out there and make a play to help the defense or help this team, it definitely sucks."
How do you have surgery on a Monday and play on a Sunday?
Well, first off it takes a whole lot of toughness, and Bobby Okereke's got that in bunches.
But you also need some really good medical folks around you, and the Colts certainly have that aspect covered.
Okereke played through the final two quarters of the Colts' Week 4 over the Chicago Bears with a broken thumb, had surgery the following day, was able to return to practice with a large club protecting his left hand on Thursday and not only started last Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, but excelled, finishing with a team-high 10 interceptions and also intercepting a Baker Mayfield pass midway through the third quarter.
To Okereke, there "really wasn't any question" whether or not he'd miss any game action after undergoing surgery to his thumb last Monday.
"I talked to the doctors after the (Bears game), got X-rays after the game two weeks ago when I hurt my thumb, and I was really asking them, 'Do you think I'm going to be out?' Like, I feel good. Obviously I played throughout the second half of that game with my injured thumb," Okereke said. "Then going through the week, it was good. I had Wednesday off because they had to make my cast, and then Thursday, Friday, … Saturday, normal process, and then just toughed it out for the game."
Okereke this season has 26 total tackles (one for a loss) with one interception and one pass defensed, and even when he's not making the play, he's plugging up holes and making it possible for others to get in there and rack up the tackles.
"You see the difference in him, just his pre-snap recognition and when the ball's snapped, his first read is getting so unbelievable," Leonard said of Okereke. "He's just taking everything in. He's learning from (Anthony) Walker, just asking questions, and to me, so then once we get to the game, everything's easier for him. I just see him taking all the right steps in the right direction."
Effective pass rush
DeForest Buckner knows what it looks like when a defensive line, and a defense as a whole, is able to generate a ton of pressure on the quarterback.
He was, after all, a cornerstone piece of an extremely talented San Francisco 49ers' defense last year that bullied its way into the opposing team's backfield on a week-to-week basis all the way to, and through, their Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now five games into his Colts tenure, Buckner can make meaningful parallels from the 49ers' defensive approach to the Colts', and he likes what he sees so far — even looking beyond just simply how many sacks the unit has.
"I think we're doing a pretty good job with that – with having some type of effect on the quarterback," Buckner said. "Like you said, (sacks) go a long way, but pressures, hits, that always affects the quarterback. His thought process – dropping back and having that constant pressure in his face and little things like that, can we do it better? Yes, but are we still being effective."
That being said, like anything else, there is room for improvement. The Colts currently rank 21st in the NFL in total pressures generated (sacks/QB hits/hurries), according to Pro Football Focus, although their sack percentage (6.4) ranks 13th.
Buckner and the Colts hope to jumpstart that improvement process on Sunday, when they play host to the Bengals, who allow pressure on the quarterback on 39.9 percent of their offensive snaps, according to PFF, which is the fifth-highest rate in the league.
"Each and every week we just have to keep grinding, keep working to finish those plays because there is a lot that we give up individually, as a team. There are opportunities that we miss all the time, it's crazy," Buckner said. "We think we're good, but we can be even better. Just watching the opportunities that we simply just – we miss the layups. We have to make sure we finish those, and when we are finishing those that's when it can be really dominate."