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Colts Mailbag: Shaquille Leonard being waived, Jelani Woods update, 2024 NFL Draft

The Colts mailbag is back for Week 12 with questions on why Shaquille Leonard was waived this week, what Jelani Woods' status is, when Grover Stewart will be back and a peek at next spring's NFL Draft. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Patty Poe, New Castle, Ind.: Why did you release Shaquille Leonard?

JJ Stankevitz:Head coach Shane Steichen declined to get into specifics of the Colts' decision to waive Leonard on Tuesday, but did quash one theory floating around the fanbase: Leonard's public criticism of the way he was being used in Gus Bradley's defense did not play a factor. 

"He's a competitor," Steichen said. "Competitors, sometimes they speak their mind, and that's okay. That happens. It's part of this business." 

The Colts' message, from Owner and CEO Jim Irsay down to general manager Chris Ballard and Steichen, focused mostly on gratitude for the impact Leonard made on and off the field in Indianapolis and well-wishes for his future elsewhere. 

"Colts Nation will always remember The Maniac's palpable energy on the field with each tackle, interception, punchout, and fumble recovery," Irsay said. "Off the field, he's a servant leader and assisted numerous families in both his hometown and the Indianapolis community. We're thankful for Shaq and the contributions he made to our organization. We wish him and his beautiful family the best moving forward."

"Shaq is the ultimate competitor and has been a fan favorite since he arrived as a rookie in 2018. We are incredibly grateful for his contributions to the team and the city of Indianapolis over the last six seasons. We wish him the best and he will always be a valued member of the Horseshoe."

Kent Lemons, Carmel, Ind.: JJ, Thanks for answering questions for Colts fans. My question is there an update on Jelani Woods' availability. I think he could help the offense's production especially in the red zone.

JJ Stankevitz: Head coach Shane Steichen said on Monday Woods had a setback with his other hamstring while rehabbing the one he sustained an injury to during training camp. Steichen added he didn't know if this setback would be season-ending or not at this point. 

Ellis Walker, Edgewood, Md.: When will Grover Stewart be available to play again?

JJ Stankevitz: Stewart has two games left in his six-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. So he'll be out for the Colts' Week 12 and 13 games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, then return in Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The Colts certainly will welcome Stewart's return. Prior to his suspension, the Colts were 13th in EPA per play allowed against the run; in the four games since his suspension, the Colts are 32nd in EPA per play allowed against the run.

Tom Christie, Connersville, Ind.: Given the size and speed of Nick Cross, why has he not been considered as a cornerback this season?

JJ Stankevitz: Cross has cross-trained (no pun intended) at slot corner this year, but with Kenny Moore II playing at such a high level – no slot defender in 2023 has allowed a lower passer rating when targeted than Moore, per Pro Football Focus – there hasn't been an opportunity for him to get into a game there. 

I'm guessing, though, you're wondering why the Colts haven't looked at Cross as an outside corner, given how the depth at that position has been tested this season. Cross stands six feet tall and ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2022, though he has an average wingspan (76 inches) compared to other defensive backs. That's totally fine for playing safety or slot corner, but part of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's focus is on long-armed cornerbacks (JuJu Brents' wingspan was a shade under 83 inches, for example). 

And that doesn't take into account the difficulty of learning a completely different position in the middle of a season. There are enough similarities between safety and slot corner that you'll see players work at both spots, but playing outside corner requires different leverage and technique. That's all to say: It's much easier said than done.

Reginald Von Storch, Saugerties, N.Y.: I've been a Colt fan since they crushed the NY Giants in 1958. I just wanted to say go after Marvin Harrison Jr. If he is half as good as his dad it will be well worth having him on the team.

JJ Stankevitz: First of all, thanks for your decades of support for the Horseshoe. I wanted to take this question to more broadly answer something I've heard from some fans over the last few weeks: Why aren't the Colts tanking to get a high draft pick they can use on an elite player to pair with Anthony Richardson when he returns in 2024?

The short answer: Losing stinks. It's tough on an entire organization, let alone one with a first-year head coach who's worked diligently to instill a certain culture and belief in every player, coach and staffer member who walks through the door.

More important than losing a bunch of games to maybe get a high draft pick next year is playing meaningful games between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, which the Colts will do in 2023. As things stand heading into Week 12, the Colts have about a 33 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to various metrics. What lies ahead is a tremendous opportunity for a young team with a first-year head coach to test itself in the thick of a playoff race, and to learn and grow from that experience in the process.

And being in that position will set the Colts up much better in 2024 than losing a lot – and I mean a lot – for a high draft pick.

Micky Wheeler, London, England: As a middle aged Colts fan and soccer player I enjoyed the article about Matt Gay. I was surprised to hear that in his rookie year he missed eight field goals and five extra points. He now seems to be one of the best kickers around. Do you have any idea what went wrong initially, and how he turned it around? Many thanks.

JJ Stankevitz: Thanks for reading, Micky. I talked to Gay about this back in March after he signed as a free agent – mentally, his rookie year in Tampa was challenging. He hadn't really encountered adversity before as a kicker, a position he only took up playing two years prior. It wasn't until he joined the Colts practice squad in 2020 that his career got back on track – he honed in on his process behind the scenes in Indianapolis, then made a name for himself with the Los Angeles Rams after they signed him during that season.

Gay has always been one to want the ball on his foot in big moments, whether he's been playing soccer or football, and he's certainly proven to be reliable since signing with the Colts. His seven field goals of 50 or more yards are tied for the NFL lead entering Week 12.

The Indianapolis Colts and US Foods teamed up with Citizens Energy Group, Hensley Legal Group, Lucas Oil Products, Meijer and UPS on to distribute Thanksgiving meals to 2,000 Indianapolis families in need. The 11th annual Horseshoe Helpings featured Colts players, Cheerleaders and local volunteers helping to pack and distribute more than 43,000 pounds of food through both drive-thru and walk-up stations at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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