INDIANAPOLIS – The want-to was obvious.
Darius Leonard, the catalyst for the NFL’s top-ranked defense, wants to be on the field Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts look to stretch their winning streak to four games against the Browns in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
“The ultimate goal is to be out there on Sunday,’’ he said Thursday on a Zoom conference call.
The manner with which Leonard ended that comment, though, might offer a clearer indication of how this might unfold.
“… but you’ve got to be smart,’’ Leonard said.
Therein lies the dilemma. Rush back from a groin injury suffered in the second quarter of last Sunday’s win at Chicago and be there to help deal with the explosive Browns’ offense, or take a long-term view.
“Yeah, you’re definitely thinking that,’’ Leonard said. “Me as a competitor, I want to go. I want to go. I want to be out there, but sometimes you’ve got to have your trainers, or someone be there (and) take your mind out of it.
“You’re a competitor. You want to be out there, and they’ve got to save you from yourself sometimes.’’
The more Leonard talked, the more the internal debate was evident.
“I’m going to take all the right precautions,’’ he said. “I’m going to do everything in my will to get back. Hopefully I get back.
“I just hope the trainers, if they see something funky but I say that I’m ready, hopefully they do pull me and say, ‘It’s a longer season so just be careful with it.’’’
Leonard’s value to the defense is undeniable. The 2018 second-round pick was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time All-Pro – first team as a rookie, second team in ’19. In 32 starts, he’s piled up 312 tackles, including a team-record 163 as a rookie, 12 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 17 defended passes.
He’s only missed four games – one as a rookie with an ankle injury and three last seasons with a concussion.
It’s entirely possible Leonard won’t practice this week, but it’s also possible he could play without doing so.
“I’ve seen enough ball, I think,’’ he said.
The uncertainty surrounding Leonard is compounded by other injuries at the position.
Starting Will ‘backer Anthony Walker, did not practice Thursday with an ankle injury that apparently occurred the previous day. He was a full participant Wednesday.
Last week, cornerback T.J. Carrie suffered a hamstring injury in Wednesday’s practice and missed the win at Chicago. He has been limited in this week’s work.
Bobby Okereke, the starting Sam ‘backer, returned to practice Thursday with a wrap on his left hand to protect a thumb injury. He underwent surgery on the thumb Monday. Backup E.J. Speed was a full participant Thursday after being limited the previous day with an injury to his right elbow.
The two healthy linebackers on the active roster are Zaire Franklin and rookie Jordan Glasgow. They’ve been heavily involved on special teams during the first four games, but Franklin has taken just five snaps on defense and Glasgow zero.
To provide depth, the team has added rookie Jonas Griffith and veteran Najee Goode to the practice squad.
Goode, 31, has started eight of 90 games in eight seasons while spending time with the Colts, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. He was with the Colts in 2018, appearing in 16 game and contributing 16 tackles and one interception.
Castonzo still not working
Anthony Castonzo missed a second straight practice with a rib injury, further clouding his availability for the Browns game.
If Castonzo is unable to play, Le’Raven Clark likely will make his 14th career start but first since week 5 of 2018 at New England when Castonzo missed the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury.
For those keeping track at home, the Colts are 1-9 when Castonzo has been out with an injury.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.