INDIANAPOLIS – This time will be different.
In fact, it is different.
Seven weeks after undergoing a second surgery in Los Angeles to repair a disk/nerve issue in his back that had impacted his left leg/calf for the past few seasons, Shaquille Leonard is optimistic he’ll make a full recovery and return to his disruptive form for the 2023 season.
“As of right now, I have zero doubt in my mind that I will be back to being me,’’ the Indianapolis Colts’ perennial All-Pro linebacker said Monday as players cleaned out their lockers and headed into an uncertain offseason. “I know that I will and I can’t wait to come back out here, compete and prove everybody wrong.
“I love this game. I love to compete. I love to play and I love to prove every doubter wrong. I’m looking forward to having that opportunity.’’
There is no timeframe for Leonard’s return, but the offseason offers extended rehabilitation time. Players reconvene in April with organized team activities (OTAs) soon to follow.
“My job is to of course be ready,’’ he said. “I don’t have to be ready to play football until June or July. I’m going to take it slow.
“I don’t want to do anything to have another setback.’’
Leonard underwent surgery on Nov. 15 in L.A., ending his fourth season. He appeared in just three games and was on the field for only 74 plays. Along with the persistent leg/calf issues, he also suffered a concussion and a fractured nose.
Standing in front of his locker room cubicle Monday, Leonard offered an optimistic medical update.
“Post-surgery for me the second time,’’ he said, “I started feeling the tingles in my calf, the tingles down my hamstring, and in the glut, stuff like that. As of right now, everything is fine.
“It’s just not strong enough yet, so my job is to continue to take it slow, continue to make sure I’m working the right muscles and get ready for next season.’’
That’s in stark contrast to how he felt in the months following the first surgery in June 2022. He missed the Colts’ offseason work, training camp and the first three games of the season. He began practicing on a limited basis in late August.
“I didn’t have any sensation down my leg for the whole time I was trying to play,’’ Leonard said. “I couldn’t do a calf raise and I had no power on my left side.’’
Yet he pushed through, until interim head coach Jeff Saturday interceded. Saturday had mentioned to Leonard he had dealt with a similar nerve issue with his hand during his playing career. When Leonard felt “something weird’’ during a Nov. 9 practice leading up to the Las Vegas game, he told his coach.
“Right then he said, ‘Bro, shut it down. I want you to get it checked back out,’’’ Leonard said.
A magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a second surgery was required.
“I thank (Saturday) because without him I would have continued to put my body on the line when I shouldn’t,’’ Leonard said. “Sometimes you’ve got to protect the player from himself and I commend Jeff for that.’’
Leonard isn’t certain whether the first surgery simply wasn’t successful, or if him returning as quickly as he did impacted the process.
“Little of both,’’ he said. “I think if I would have sat down maybe a month instead of practicing for that month, maybe I could have played the rest of the season. But we live, we learn.
“When dealing with nerves, from what I’ve learned, you have to take the proper time, proper rest. Me being a warrior, me wanting to compete, me wanting to be by my brothers’ side, I wanted to be on the field. But I didn’t know I was making it worse by continuing to do the things that I was doing.’’
What’s next for Ryan?
It was a strange first season in Indy for Matt Ryan. After being acquired in a March trade with the Atlanta Falcons, the veteran quarterback suffered a Grade 2 separation to his right (throwing) shoulder, was benched twice and started 12 games. He was 4-7-1 as a starter and finished with 3,057 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
With the Colts holding the 4th overall pick in the April draft, they’re expected to select their quarterback of the future. Ryan is under contract through next season, but he likely will be released before early March to save the team approximately $17 million.
Ryan, 37 and with 15 years in the NFL, still wants to play, even if it’s not with the Colts.
“Here, wherever, I have to see how it shakes out,’’ he said. “But I still love playing and still feel like honestly, I still feel like there’s a lot of good football in my body. We’ll see what happens.’’
Ryan said he has recovered from the shoulder injury.
Like everyone, he’ll just sit back and see how things unfold.
“There’s a lot that’s going to happen here in the next couple of weeks and kind of see where things shake out,’’ Ryan said. “At this point, it’s just about kind of recharging the batteries and trying to take some time to get the body healthy, get the mind healthy and see how things shake out.’’
He admitted 2022 was “a tough year, personally (and) for the team. It was hard and disappointing. We came into the season with high expectations, just didn’t work out the way we thought it would.’’
What about JT?
Jonathan Taylor finished his third season on the injured reserve list with an injury to his right ankle that bothered him much of the season.
The team’s feature running back wasn’t certain whether surgery will be required to address the injury.
“I’m not sure,’’ Taylor said. “I’m actually going to talk to the doc today after I talk to you all.
“It feels a lot better than what it did. So, continue to progress and work through that in the offseason and come back stronger than ever. You hope it doesn’t happen again.’’
Taylor led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,811 yards in 2021, but was limited to 861 yards in 11 games this season.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.