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Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and linebackers coach Richard Smith rave about Shaquille Leonard latest training camp strides

After Leonard took his first reps of padded 11-on-11 team drills this weekend, the coaching staff took time to praise his performance during Monday's media availability.

Leonard

WESTFIELD, Ind. - As Shaquille Leonard has worked his way into seeing more and more reps during training camp practices, the Colts coaching staff has seen him make strides with his increased opportunities.

Though he had been a frequent participant in individual and seven-on-seven drills, this past Saturday was the first time that he was able to join his team in the padded 11-on-11 portion of practice.

Leonard was even more active on Sunday, which gained the attention of the Colts' coaching staff.

"I think yesterday, we saw his footwork, his change of direction, all that - he has gone in an upward (trend)," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "But he took a big jump yesterday in about three or four plays where we saw it. And I know I went over and talked to him I said, 'That was your best day in making that kind of a jump.' So, I think each and every day, he's building more and more confidence. And he just needs to play like he is in practice and, you know, start building that back up again. Cause shoot, he had another PBU (pass breakup) yesterday. He is so natural back there. And has such a good understanding that you know, when that catches up. So, he's progressing really well. And I thought yesterday, he made his biggest jump."

That statement was the latest of many to show just how far Leonard has come over a trying year.

Linebackers coach Richard Smith saw firsthand the difficulties that Leonard went through last season and said it was clear he was determined to return to the player he was before his injury-plagued 2022 season.

"A year ago, I felt very, very sorry for the guy," Smith said. "He came off this injury, missed all of the offseason programs from OTAs and missed the training camp part. Then all of a sudden, we weened him back in. Anytime you got a great player like that, in terms of a very prideful, leader, playmaker – the Colts organization is extremely important to him, winning is very important to him. That is tough.

"I don't know, you know, how it will turn out but if he can continue to make progress like that [Sunday's practice], outstanding. Because I'm gonna tell you, he's unbelievable in the classroom, he's really good out on the field and he really wants it. I'm hoping everything happens the way that he would like it to happen because he is a Colt and he is very, very prideful. And he's got outstanding instincts. He understands football really, really well. So we're going to continue that, you know, progressing him, as every day goes on."

Now regaining his confidence and athleticism on the field, Shaq [Leonard's] presence has not only re-invigorated his fellow defensive teammates but has created a new wrinkle for the offense during practice.

"If I'm a quarterback making the decision in the pass game, I need to know where he is," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "He gets his hands on a lot of footballs. If I'm running the ball or catching the ball - you know, we work ball security every day. (I'm sure that's the most exciting three minutes of y'all's day for getting stories out.) But hey, we work it because of the guys like Shaq in this league."

Cooter's warning has merit to it since Leonard has forced 17 fumbles, recovered six and picked off 12 passes through the first five seasons of his career.

As Leonard works his way back to regaining his 'Maniac' form, Smith said he believes in the meantime, Leonard can still be a driving force for this defense.

"Will he be that same guy that he was three [years ago]?" Smith asked. "I don't know, and he doesn't know that yet. But I'm gonna tell you what he is. He's a coach on the field, and he has probably the best instincts, okay, in understanding of it all that I've ever been around. Okay, so what he doesn't, - let's say he's limited a little bit. (I'm talking about because of his injuries). He can make up for it in terms of big play ability because of his instinct and his knowledge."

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