INDIANAPOLIS — No one would blame Darius Leonard if he took a minute to stop and bask in his many accomplishments from his first NFL season.
Simply put: he turned in one of the best performances by a defensive rookie in recent NFL memory. The 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Leonard led the league with 163 total tackles and added 12.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, eight passes defensed, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries en route to First-Team All-Pro honors.
These are accolades any player would love to have on their résumé.
But it’s not enough. Not for Leonard, at least.
“I didn’t win a Super Bowl ring. I didn’t win MVP. I wasn’t a Pro Bowler. So I still thrive from that,” Leonard told reporters on Monday during the team’s first day of its offseason workout program. “Because every year you want to be classified as the best, and every game I want to make every tackle, every sack — everything. So if my name isn’t at the top, I’m not happy. And last year my name wasn’t at the top so I’m gonna keep working until I get there.”
To help accomplish those goals, Leonard said he’s spent much of the first three months of his offseason “getting my body right.” The South Carolina State product last spring came to the Colts weighing as much as he ever had at 234 pounds thanks to the pre-draft process, but believed that extra weight played a major role in some nagging injuries throughout his first few months with the team.
Leonard said he eventually got back down to about 217 pounds — his college playing weight — by the end of the regular season, and reported to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday weighing 221 pounds.
That’s going to be his comfort zone moving forward.
“I’m not a typical linebacker,” Leonard explained. “If you look at a linebacker, 6-4, 230 pounds, gonna come downhill; no, I’m more of a speed guy and very athletic. So if I’m going to play in space, I need to be able to move. And I played all my life at 215, 220 and was never over 225. And last year I was injured a lot — that was when I was pretty heavy — so I want to stay down. Hopefully I can cut some of that down.”
Leonard is also ecstatic to be available for the team on the field from the get-go. He missed the entirety of his very first offseason program due to a nagging quad injury, and said his availability heading into Year 2 will allow him to be much more involved once on-field work begins in a couple weeks.
“It will help me out a lot, because last year I really felt like I was behind, and especially being on the field and making a lot of checks,” Leonard said. “And with them being in there for a whole month, two months, and then when I come in, I didn’t feel like I was worthy enough to open my mouth to say, ‘Strong right,’ ‘Strong left,’ or make any kind of checks. So now that I have a whole year and I’m here from Day 1, I feel like the defensive line and everybody around me can trust in me and know that I’m gonna give them the right checks.”
So, in other words, the rest of the league now has proper warning: Darius Leonard remains as inspired as ever to make plays all over the field for the Colts’ defense in 2019.
“I mean, what I’ve done last year is nothin’ now,” he said. “I mean, it’s starting a new season, so the only thing I do now — and Coach (Matt Eberflus) talks about it all the time — is just watching all your bad plays and just seeing how you get better. Because they’re going to be watching all your bad plays as well and they’re going to try to get at you that way, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better and try to not put a ceiling on how good I can be.”