It's been a long time coming for Shaquille Leonard.
Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was the first regular season contest the three-time NFL All-Pro was able to play in since last November.
That's a fact Leonard is painfully aware of as he has spent the past several months rehabbing intensely so that he could remind everyone why he has been widely considered one of the best linebackers in the league for the past five years.
So, when he finally took the field on Sunday, it was clear to everyone around him that he was playing with a purpose.
"When you have a veteran player coming back from something, he's got something to prove," Colts head coach Shane Steichen said. "He did that and I thought he was productive. Obviously, I gotta go back and look at the tape, but I'm pleased with what he did out there."
Leonard finished the game with eight combined tackles, the second most of any Colt defensive player during Sunday's game.
Feeling himself get more comfortable as the game went on, Leonard said he could feel his 'Maniac' persona start to take over.
"For me, it was the second half," Leonard said. "I kind of got settled when I started seeing things and started playing to my ability and that was just a blessing. Just getting back out there and making plays for this team."
However, the moment he was most proud of came in the second quarter when he got his first tackle for loss since 2021.
"That was huge," Leonard said. "That was by far the biggest play of the day for me. To make that tackle for loss, run through, trust my eyes, trust my speed and do that – as soon as I did it I looked over at Zaire [Franklin] and I said, 'Yeah, that felt good.' And I was glad that I got it done today so I could just continue to build up trust within myself and continue to grow."
As happy as Leonard was after the play, Franklin was just as eager to celebrate his close friend and teammate.
Seeing how hard he had worked to get back on the field, Franklin said he was glad to root for his big play.
"I was right there turning him up and calling him 'Maniac,'" Franklin said. "I'm right there with him and no matter what, I always tell him after every play in the game that, 'I got your back out there. When you're out there, you're not by yourself. You don't have to do everything alone, I'm with you.'"
While his stats would suggest that Leonard had a good game, they only tell half the story.
Even when Leonard wasn't making tackles, his impact was felt as he proved to still be a positive force on the sideline.
"The energy he brings, running around, flying around making plays, getting the crowd fired up," Steichen said. "Just the intensity level that he brings every day to that practice field and getting to see it, him back on the field, it was awesome to see."