INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts saw the return of one of their most important defensive players on Sunday when defensive end Jabaal Sheard made his 2019 season debut in Indy's 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Sheard suffered a knee injury early in training camp that required a procedure, putting him on the shelf after just one practice, but he was able to begin practicing again in an official capacity last week, putting together two straight weeks of limited participation before rejoining his teammates on the field against the Raiders.
"It felt good to be back out there with the team, with my brothers again," Sheard told reporters after the game. "You miss the game, you miss competing, but overall it felt good to be back out there.
"It felt great, man, honestly, to be back with the guys," Sheard continued. "Steal the momentum at times, and just making tackles and just getting back in the field of football, it felt pretty good."
Sheard's return is welcomed as the Colts have struggled at times to stop the run, as well as get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The veteran Sheard provides a consistent pass rush as a defensive end, but his specialty is arguably his ability to set the edge in the run game.
Sheard on Sunday was credited with four tackles — all solo stops — but he's already eyeing that first sack of the season whenever the time comes. The Colts on Sunday used him in multiple ways, including as a defensive tackle in certain passing situations for the offense, to try to find favorable matchups up front.
Although it's never ideal to miss the start of the season, Sheard said he appreciated the trust put into him by the Colts' staff, which provided enough time to allow him to fully recover and eventually work his way back into the fold.
"I wasn't in a rush; there was no rush," Sheard said regarding the timetable for his return. "Chris (Ballard), and Coach Frank (Reich) and everyone gave me time to get fully healthy. We didn't want any setbacks. I practiced for a few weeks and had to make sure everything was OK."
One player who stepped up in the nine-year veteran's absence was rookie Ben Banogu, who often plays a similar role as Sheard at left defensive end. While Sheard was sidelined, he was able to take on a role as a teacher to Banogu and some of the Colts' younger defenders.
"Even whenever he wasn't (playing), he was being a great mentor to us," Banogu said. "I feel like having him back really helps the team. He's a versatile guy — well, really everyone on the D-line is versatile — but he's the type of guy that you can put on the pass-rushing crew, he can be inside, he can be on the outside. Having him back and seeing him make plays and fly around and have fun is really cool to see."
Banogu said it was impressive seeing Sheard put his words to action on Sunday against the Raiders.
"The pointers don't stop. Having him out there and actually seeing him play and make plays, you can tell why he's so good," Banogu said. "For me and for some of the other guys, listening to what he has to say on pointers and different things that he sees out there, he can help you make plays so you can help the team. So, it's kinda cool to have a guy that's a vet and sees the bigger picture and can get you into great places on the field."
Count Sheard among those who get a little antsy when he's not able to contribute. He was obviously enthusiastic about getting back on the field and doing what he loves on Sunday, as you could see him chasing the ball all the way downfield as well as slicing through the trenches to make takedowns. Now he hopes to make a difference in a winning effort moving forward.
"It's rough," Sheard said of being sidelined. "But you become a fan of watching your teammates, watching everybody play and being a fan, because you know the guys personally. So when you see 'em doing so well, it's encouraging and then you get back out there, you want to add, you want it to build. Obviously, I wanted us to win and be able to fit right in."