WESTFIELD, Ind. — Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard has been very noticeable through the first three days of Indianapolis Colts training camp practices.
After injuring a quad at the Scouting Combine and then re-injuring it during pre-draft workouts, he was forced to miss the on-field portion of the Colts' offseason program and minicamps. It would've been understandable for Leonard to just blend into the crowd initially at training camp.
Day 1, Leonard is mixed in with the first-team defense and intercepts quarterback Andrew Luck. The same practice, Leonard runs in stride with speedster Nyheim Hines and meets him at the sideline on a screen pass.
Since then, Leonard has been a fixture with the first-team defense, was the defense's primary dime linebacker on Saturday and has continued to flash, both against the run and the pass.
How does a rookie who missed almost the whole spring program hit the ground running like that? Leonard has zero problem finding things to motivate him. Not that a guy nicknamed "Maniac" would.
One of the biggest motivating factors in Leonard's football career started during his college recruitment. He wanted to go to Clemson where his brother Anthony Waters previously played. Things didn't work out, and Clemson didn't take Leonard. Big mistake.
As a player for South Carolina State in 2016, Leonard played against Clemson. Nineteen tackles later, his teammates dubbed him, "Maniac."
Colts.com asked Leonard about the motivation he uses in being snubbed by Clemson and being overlooked during the draft process and if he'll use it moving forward:
"Without a doubt. That Clemson game, I had the biggest chip on my shoulder," Leonard said on Saturday. "I came in with a chip here... Everybody that doubted me, I want to prove them wrong."
Physical ability obviously isn't the only thing that has allowed Leonard to perform at a high level in camp. He's proving to be a student of the game as well.
"I've spent a lot of time with the coaches and have been paying a lot of attention in meetings," Leonard said. "I don't think I'm behind — I think I'm right with everybody else."
If Leonard continues to perform at a high level on the practice field, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him lock up a starting linebacker spot come Week 1 of the regular season.
He plans on doing just that, as he describes by, "coming out every day and giving it 110 percent — nothing less."