One day after linebacker Shaquille Leonard was waived, the Colts were back to work at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center figuring out how to navigate the departure of a team captain while keeping focus on Sunday's pivotal matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"To say there is a right time to release a player, I think it's hard," head coach Shane Steichen said. "It was a decision that was made. It was a tough decision. I'm not going to get into all the details. But I do, I wish him all the best. He was great for this organization."
Across the Colts' locker room on Wednesday, there was plenty of disappointment in the end of Leonard's time in Indianapolis, but also acknowledgement of it representing the business side of the NFL.
"It was hard to see it come to an end like that," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "But when I got the news, I shot him a text, told him how much he meant to me, how much I believed in everything he was about. It's tough, but we gotta move forward.
"... I understand it's a tough business. We all have an expiration date, whether we like it or not, and it's unfortunate that his great career and the things he (did) kind of ended so abruptly. But I know he'll have brighter things in the future."
"Shaq, he's one of one," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "He's one hell of a person, one hell of a teammate, player. The energy he'd bring every day, he'd put a smile on your face — it's definitely a tough one to see him let go yesterday. It's a tough part of the business. It's just hard. It's always hard seeing your teammates, whether they get traded or cut, but this one definitely hit home a little bit more just because of the person he is and the player he is and the way he always seeks to help others. That's definitely going to be missed."
While Leonard's presence will be missed, the Colts have a critical Week 12 game looming against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. At 5-5, the Colts' playoff chances are real but they don't have much margin for error in a crowded AFC postseason picture.
"It's going to be up to us, the other leaders inside of this locker room, to try to help rally guys and bring guys back together to focus on the task at hand," running back Jonathan Taylor said. "It's gonna be tough but we have to do it."
The Colts' locker room has had to withstand adversity this season, from Taylor's four-week absence to begin the season to Anthony Richardson's season-ending shoulder injury to Grover Stewart's six-game suspension (which will end after the team's next two games). Through it all, this team is 5-5 with a legitimate chance to make a playoff push in the next month and a half. Navigating life without The Maniac will now be the Colts' next challenge to overcome as this team tries to make a run at spot in the AFC playoffs.
"We got a great team coming in on Sunday with a lot of explosive players that we gotta take care of," Franklin said. "Obviously (Leonard's) presence and everything about him is missing — his locker was next to mine for years, you know what I'm saying — so everything that I got going on in the building, how I'm moving in the building just feels different without him here. It's a tough business but we gotta keep moving forward."
Wednesday's practice report