INDIANAPOLIS — When the Indianapolis Colts open camp on July 25, they will be getting back some healthy players who were unable to participate in team practice this spring. One of them is expected to be a linebacker who goes by “Maniac.”
Rookie second-round pick Darius Leonard missed the spring with a nagging quad injury, Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters on Friday, but after being shut down to focus on rehab to get to 100 percent, Leonard is expected to be an active participant when camp practices begin.
His availability will be a shot in the arm for a new-look Colts defense in need of players to step up and own starting jobs — particularly at linebacker.
“Once we see him (Leonard) kind of in full-mode operating, we can kind of get a handle on where he is physically," Colts head coach Frank Reich told the media during the offseason program. "I think he’s headed in the right direction.”
When the Colts do get Leonard on the field, they will hopefully be getting their WILL linebacker of the future.
Although “Maniac” comes from a lower level of competition at FCS South Carolina State, nothing about his game is “lower level.”
The 6-2, 234-pound linebacker flies around the field sideline to sideline, diagnoses the offense in front of him quite well and tackles violently. At the end of the day, he is perfect for the Colts’ new 4-3 defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Ballard said taking a small-school player in the second round is worth the risk when they have the traits that Leonard has.
“You’re going to have risk with any player," Ballard said. "The athlete, the speed, that’s what we want at linebacker. We want guys that can play in space, close to the football and you have to do that with speed. The way we play, speed is on a premium. Our linebackers have to be able to run. I mean, we set a limit on it. And he has got speed.
"Look, I don’t worry about – once he showed it at the Senior Bowl and he is another guy that would’ve come off pretty quickly. I mean, I think you are seeing all of these other linebackers that aren’t going. He would’ve gone and he is a great kid. He’s passionate about football. The one thing I’ll say is we blew cards and we do that for guys that we think have real grit and he was one of the guys that we think have real grit.”
Ballard compared the selection of Leonard to the general manager's time as a scout with the Chicago Bears in 2006 when they selected safety Danieal Manning out of Abilene Christian — also in the second round. That Bears team went to the Super Bowl that year (a loss against the Colts) and Manning started all 16 games.
“If they are talented enough and they have mental toughness – he’ll handle it," Ballard said of Leonard.
2018 NFL Draft - 2nd Round 36th Overall - DARIUS LEONARD