INDIANAPOLIS – The occasion was to help ease the difficulties of others at Thanksgiving.
Shaquille Leonard, the Indianapolis Colts’ All-Pro linebacker, partnered with Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana to distribute 200 meal kits to families in need. It’s the second year his Maniac Foundation has helped make the holidays a bit easier.
But the topic of Leonard’s difficulties eventually was broached.
For the second time in five months, Leonard underwent back surgery to address a nerve issue that was sending pain through his left calf and ankle and diminishing the strength in both areas.
“It does feel like I’m back to Square One,’’ Leonard told the media Monday. “Maybe I pushed it a little too quick.’’
The first surgery was done June 9, and rehabilitation forced him to miss the Colts’ offseason work, training camp and the first three games of the season. He returned for the week 4 game against Tennessee, but suffered a concussion and broken nose in a collision with teammate Zaire Franklin.
Leonard missed the following three games and returned on a pitch count against Washington and New England. But he experienced a setback after a Nov. 9 practice.
He told the media “the nerve still isn’t firing.’’
That led to a second back surgery Nov. 15 in Los Angeles.
“It’s just rest and letting the body heal,’’ Leonard said. “Hopefully the nerves can get back right. I’m just making sure I’m staying prepared mentally and emotionally and then, when the time comes, physically.
“Now I have time for actual true rest and to get the proper treatment and recovery for this injury. Hopefully come OTAs, I’ll be ready to rock and roll.’’
The 2018 second-round draft pick quickly established himself as a cornerstone of the Colts’ defense and one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year and is a four-time All-Pro, including three first-time selections. In four seasons, he piled up a slew of game-altering statistics: 15 sacks, 11 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 30 tackles for loss. His 163 tackles as a rookie were a team record and led the NFL.
In 2021 and playing all season with a gimpy left ankle, Leonard generated four interceptions and a league-high eight forced fumbles.
But his fifth season barely got off the ground. He was on the field for just 74 snaps in three games.
Leonard said he’s leaned on his family – “Especially with my two little girls. They’ve taken my mind (off) football)’’ – and input from teammates and colleagues around the league.
The drive undoubtedly remains.
“I want to be out there,’’ he said. “I want to be a competitor. I want to compete and I can’t do that.’’
Leonard will remain as supportive of his teammates as possible, until he’s able to rejoin them on the field.
“I’m still the Maniac,’’ he said, “and I believe that I still have the capability of going out there and making plays.
“And just know that I keep every receipt of everything someone’s ever said about me and I’m looking at tweets. I’m seeing everything and I’m just ready to go out and prove everybody wrong once again.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.