INDIANAPOLIS – The conversation bounced from the upcoming meeting with AFC South rival Tennessee to the defense’s game-clinching interception against Kansas City to Grover Stewart being one of the NFL’s most underappreciated players.

Then, Shaquille Leonard was given a path to get something off his chest.

He swatted down any notion circulating on social media that he’s, well, soft.

The Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker has missed the first three games while going through extensive rehabilitation after undergoing back surgery in June to address two disks that were pressing on nerves and sending pain down his left leg.

He might miss a fourth as well. Leonard remains a full participant in practice, but wouldn’t give any indication he’ll make his first appearance Sunday when the Colts entertain the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Yeah, I’m better,’’ Leonard said Thursday. “Each week has been better.’’

That was the opening Leonard was seeking.

He’s notorious for turning over every rock on social media to find motivation, someone – anyone – who’s critical of him for whatever reason.

Recently, trolls have questioned Leonard’s prolonged absence. They see him bouncing around on the sideline during games, urging on his teammates.

And he’s noticed.

“I’m going to say this because I’ve seen it all over social media,’’ Leonard said. “If I’m ready to go, I’m gonna play. Everybody knows me. I went out there last year with one ankle.

“I love this game, love this game with all my heart and I’ll do anything to play this game for a hundred years.’’

Surgery on his left ankle during the 2021 offseason didn’t alleviate the situation and Leonard played last season at less than 100%. Even so, he was named first-team All-Pro for the third time in four seasons. Despite missing one game due to COVID-19, he generated a disruptive stat line: four interceptions, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, four tackles for loss.

One of the gauges being used to determine Leonard’s readiness for returning has been comparing video of his current practices to previous years.

“We watch tape and we can see,’’ coach Frank Reich said last week. “When you look at tape from his last year or the year before versus tape now and watch him move . . . it’s not the same.

“We need it to look the same.’’

Leonard seemed to agree with that assessment during his Thursday meeting with the media.

“If I feel like I can play to the ability that I know I can play and help this team win, I’m going to be out there,’’ he said. “But if I think that my ability is putting the team in trouble, I’ve gotta respect my decision to say, ‘OK, Zaire (Franklin) is playing a whole lot faster. The defense will (be) better with me standing on the sideline.’

“It’s just me. I’ve got to look myself in the mirror, tell the coaches that.’’

Leonard emphasized his situation doesn’t simply involve his ankle or the back.

“There’s a lot of nerve things that went wrong,’’ he said. “Practicing for four weeks, people gotta understand that first week was just nothing but stiffness. Second week, ‘OK, now let me see how I cover ground.’ Third week, ‘OK, let me see how can I tackle. Can I tackle in space? Can I move left or right? Can I do things I know I’m supposed to do?’

“That’s what it all comes down to. It’s not just practicing. Yes, I’ve practiced full. You’ve got to know in depth why am I practicing? Why am I just practicing and why am I not playing?

“If I’m able to play, I’m out there and I’m giving it everything I’ve got. If I can’t, y’all gotta respect that. I can’t put this team in jeopardy of losing, knowing that I’m out there, knowing that they’re better with my on the sideline.’’

Taylor returns

Running back Jonathan Taylor returned to the practice field Thursday after missing the previous day with a toe injury. He said he began feeling discomfort after Sunday’s win over Kansas City.

Sitting out of Wednesday’s practice, Taylor said, was for “precautionary measures.’’

Also returning to full practice were center Ryan Kelly (knee), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (hamstring) and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (back). Offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann (ankle) and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (neck) were limited.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.