INDIANAPOLIS – Darius Leonard is doing all he can with what he has in his on-going pursuit to the best he can be.
That includes making himself stay glued to his laptop during those oft-times tedious two-hour Zoom meetings as part of the Indianapolis Colts’ virtual offseason program.
“The only thing that sucks is a guy like me . . . hates to sit still for 10 minutes,’’ Leonard said during a Wednesday Zoom conference call. “You’ve got to sit still for an hour and a half, two hours.’’
That includes maximizing his individual workout regimen while he and his family are sequestered in rural South Carolina. Leonard initially ran around in his spacious yard and did “country stuff like moving the lawn mower.’’
Soon, that was enhanced as he received workout equipment from the Colts. He then borrowed more equipment from Lake View High School (S.C.) football coach Daryl King’s weight room.
“I had to turn my man cave into a home gym,’’ Leonard said.
But perhaps his strongest motivation heading into year 3 comes from two other areas:
- A seasonal “To Do’’ list that continually has had too many unchecked boxes.
- Teammate Anthony Walker.
In each of his first two seasons, Leonard has jotted down a list of roughly 15 goals. He’s only managed to achieve a handful each season.
After the Colts surprised many by selecting the South Carolina State standout with the 36th overall pick in 2018 draft, Leonard responded by being named first-team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year. He led the NFL with a team-record 163 tackles despite missing one game.
Last season, he was selected to his first Pro Bowl, named second-team All-Pro Bowl and continued to emerge as one of the NFL’s rising stars. He became the first player since at least 1982 with 10-plus sacks and 5-plus interceptions in his first 25 games. He finished with 121 tackles – two fewer than Walker after missing three games with a concussion – and added a team-high 5 interceptions, 5 sacks and seven passes defensed.
“He’s been a consistent playmaker and his leadership has continued to grow,’’ Frank Reich said. “I’m just excited about him continuing to do that, making plays on the ball and being the consistent player that he is.
“I mean this guy has been everything that you want. The thing I love most about Darius is the way he practices, how much energy he brings to practice. I think it’s contagious.’’
So, Leonard’s motivation for 2020? Same as ’18 and ’19, with a few adjustments.
“Super Bowl MVP, league MVP, Defensive Player of the Year,’’ Leonard said. “I think I wrote down maybe 15 goals last year. I only met three or four. That’s unacceptable in my book.
“I’ve got to write those same goals down, and the ones I met, bump it up a little bit and strive to reach every goal that I have instead of three or four.’’
And that brings us to Anthony Walker, who led the Colts with a career-high 123 tackles last season.
“Me and A-Wal, we always go at it,’’ Leonard said with a smile. “Just like I’m still upset he beat me by (two tackles) last season.’’
Currently, that linebacker-to-linebacker competition consists of how they’re matching up while attacking their team-aligned workouts.
“Now we always talk about who’s going to have the best heart rate when we do our 2-minute, 3-minute (drills),’’ Leonard said. “We always talk about who’s waking up first to go get their workout. Just doing stuff to always compete because if he’s going to be playing beside me every single play, we’ve got to compete because I’m going to try to make every play before he (does).’’
Who’s winning the competition?
“He loves distance running and he’s in the sun every day,’’ Leonard conceded. “He might have got me on the 2-minutes, 3-minutes. But who’s waking up earlier? I’m waking up earlier. I think I get my workout in before he do.
“Just being a competitor . . . I’m going to say I work out harder than he does. I think he’s going to be upset when he sees that.’’
Leonard addressed two other issues:
Becoming more of a leader:
Long-time NBA standout Ray Allen addressed the team via Zoom last week. He spoke of leadership, and found Leonard’s receptive ears.
“The only advice he could give me being a young guy and having to talk to other men who are way older than you, the only thing you can do is continue to do what you can do and that is go out and show that you are a leader,’’ Leonard said. “Go out and play as if you are a leader and the rest of it will fall into place.
“I’m not going to go in and try to say, ‘OK, I’m this guy. You have to listen to this.’ Or, ‘I’m this guy, you have to do that.’ No, I’m going to continue to do what I do and that’s go out, make plays and lead by example.’’
The addition of Buckner:
Chris Ballard added a force to the defensive line in March when he acquired tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with San Francisco.
“I found out on social media,’’ Leonard said. “Once the trade happened, I was just very excited to add another monster to the defense. Watching his tapes, seeing how well he plays, I’m seeing how he can help the defense.
“Just looking forward to playing with him.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.