WESTFIELD, Ind. – Shaquille Leonard went through warm-ups and individual drills as the curtain lifted on Colts training camp, as expected.
But when the Colts' defense huddled for the first full-team, 11-on-11 rep of training camp, there was No. 53, raising his arms and eliciting a roar from the crowd at Grand Park on Wednesday morning. For the first time since November 2022, Leonard was on a football field, playing football.
"That (moment) was emotional for me," Leonard said. "It's been a long journey, man. It's been a long journey. You see a lot of bad things, people thought that I was just sitting out to sit out and not understanding that I was fighting my tail off to get back and be the best version of myself for this team. And then to come out here and hearing the crowd excitement for me getting back on the field, that was reassurance that these fans are still with me and I'm doing something right, and hopefully I can continue to make them proud."
Leonard participated in 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven portions of Wednesday's practice with a level of involvement he admitted even surprised him. But while the three-time first-team AP All-Pro linebacker was encouraged by the practice, he wasn't ready to make any grand declarations about his availability or future based off it yet.
What Leonard still needed to see was how he moved during practice compared to his teammates, and use that as a gauge for where he is in his recovery from a nerve issue that led to him undergoing two surgeries in 2022.
"When you're working by yourself, it's hard to judge," Leonard said. "So now when I'm in a team setting going against the guys, working on hands and feet and being in space and seeing how I can improve each day."
Leonard and the Colts' training staff have been careful to not accelerate his recovery process until he's ready for the next step – something Leonard said he, individually, pushed too far in 2022.
"Just learning from my mistakes — last year, I was just so eager to get back out there and I feel like I hurt myself again," Leonard said. "That's why I had the second surgery in November. So just learning from that and learning how to take it slow in talking to the coaches and trainers just saying hey, you got me on a cap, it is what it is."
Taking it slow will still be the directive for Leonard in the coming days and weeks, but the Colts have been pleased with his dedication to getting back on the field. And there was no missing his presence – and juice – on the green grass of Grand Park Wednesday.
"It's awesome to have him back, the energy he brings," head coach Shane Steichen said. "I know he's been grinding and taking care of his body to get back out there. We're slowly progressing him back in and just really thankful and thrilled for him to be back out there with his teammates."
Notes & Observations from Day 1
- Steichen said running back Jonathan Taylor, who was placed on the Active/PUP list Tuesday, is working his way back from the offseason ankle procedure that held him out of OTAs and minicamp this spring. "We'll see how long that takes but once he's 100 percent healthy, he'll be out there," Steichen said.
- Safety Julian Blackmon (hamstring) did not participate in practice. Steichen said there's no timetable on his return.
- Cornerback JuJu Brents (hamstring) also did not practice, though Steichen said the rookie "should be good" and will be on the field "very soon."
- The Colts stuck to red zone work in Wednesday's helmets-only practice and heavily rotated skill position players and defensive linemen. Steichen wanted the Colts to ease into training camp by not having any drills that would require long drives by the offense, and aimed to be "smart" with reps to avoid the kind of injuries that can crop up in Week 1 of camp. Anyways, a few highlights from the day:
- Cornerback Kenny Moore II had an impressive pass break-up in a seven-on-seven red zone period.
- Quarterback Gardner Minshew threw a touchdown to tight end Kylen Granson while quarterback Anthony Richardson found wide receiver Ethan Fernea for a score in the first full-team period.
- Tight end Andrew Ogletree moved well in his first practice since sustaining a torn ACL last August in a joint training camp practice with the Detroit Lions.