INDIANAPOLIS — Shaquille Leonard certainly lives up to his "Maniac" nickname on the field, but as it turns out, he's just as maniacal when he's forced to watch his Indianapolis Colts from home.
Diagnosed with a concussion after the Colts' Week 2 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Leonard continued to battle symptoms over the next three weeks, which prevented him from playing against the Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
Against the Falcons, Leonard threw on his Colts helmet and game jersey and nervously paced back and forth as his teammates were able to hang on for a 27-24 home victory. Leonard was able to be on the sideline for Indy's Week 4 loss to the Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium, but then watched from home once again the following week, frequently sharing his thoughts on Twitter as the Colts went on the road and defeated the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, 19-13.
Leonard was able to take advantage of the bye week last week to be cleared from the league's concussion protocol, and he's hopeful that he'll be able to suit up this Sunday, as the Colts play host to the Houston Texas in a critical AFC South Divisional matchup.
One thing's for sure, though: Leonard would much rather be "the Maniac" on the field again.
"It was definitely tough, being away from the team and not being able to go out there and help your brothers out," Leonard said on Monday. "So it was definitely was rough, especially when you couldn't even be on the sideline. So it definitely was a tough time for me."
The second-year linebacker said he started experiencing a "throbbing" headache in the locker room after the Titans game, and after an evaluation he was placed in the concussion protocol. It was officially Leonard's second concussion — he also had one in college at South Carolina State — but this one just kept lingering.
Leonard spent most of the first two weeks in the protocol battling frequent headaches at home, but was hopeful he might be able to play against the Chiefs as the headaches started to subside. He returned to practice that Wednesday, Oct. 2, and felt great, but the next day, he said he experienced a "small headache." It was enough to prevent him from playing that Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Leonard watched on as his fellow Colts defenders shut down reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense, who saw their NFL record streak of 22 straight regular season games scoring 26 or more points snapped.
An ecstatic Leonard tweeted 40 times that night.
"That was one of the hardest things — not being able to be with the guys," Leonard said. "Especially in that crunch time game against Kansas City, you know, you wanted to be there for your guys, so I had to let them know that I was watching and making sure that they knew I had the same intensity that I would've had on the field, so I brought it to Twitter just to let them know that I was there watching."
With the headaches officially gone the following week, Leonard, now cleared from the concussion protocol, spent his bye week in his hometown of Lake View, S.C., where he donated backpacks and coats to local students and also had his No. 10 retired in a ceremony at his alma mater, Lake View High School.
And now Leonard sets his sights on quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Texans, who are also riding high after a road win over the Chiefs, 31-24, and are coming into Lucas Oil Stadium with an AFC South-leading 4-2 record.
Watson, like Mahomes, is known for his ability to use his mobility to make plays outside the pocket, and Colts head coach Frank Reich hopes Leonard can return to the lineup Sunday to limit — and wreck — those opportunities for the talented third-year quarterback.
That's what Leonard did in three games against the Texans last season, when he combined to collect 38 tackles (two for a loss) with two sacks and two passes defensed. The Colts went on to win all three of those contests — including their Wild Card Round playoff matchup against the Texans in Houston — and they hope to have their All-Pro linebacker back in the fold this time around, too.
"This team has some really talented players on offense. They are smart players. You can tell that they have smart football players and physically talented players. So we need to have as many of those guys as well," Reich said. "Darius is one of those guys that can – when Deshaun Watson gets in the open field, Darius can make it interesting, and not many guys can. So you need guys like Darius that can make it interesting."