WESTFIELD – When Shaquille Leonard gets back on the practice field, the All-Pro linebacker still isn’t likely to be all the way back.
Listen to Frank Reich.
“I think when he gets cleared, he’s not going to be 100% and I think he is going to have work his way back into it,’’ he said after Thursday’s joint practice with the Detroit Lions.
Leonard was back handling his normal training camp duties: serving as pseudo-coach during practice, urging and cajoling the defense.
That’s been his role when he hasn’t been working with the team’s training staff. Leonard remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) after undergoing June surgery to address two disks in his back.
No one has offered even a tentative timeline for his return. He might be cleared and be available for the Sept. 11 opener at Houston, or perhaps not.
But when that time comes, Reich cautioned everyone to keep expectations reasonable. To make his point, he mentioned Peyton Manning’s 2008 season.
Manning missed the entirety of the preseason after having surgery in mid-July to address an infected bursa sac in his left knee. He was cleared for the start of the season, but had to work himself back into true game shape.
The Colts opened 1-2 and their quarterback was un-Manning-like: 59.1% completion rate, three TDs, four interceptions, a 73.1 passer rating.
Then, normalcy returned. Manning regained his form and the Colts posted a 12-4 record, including nine straight wins to close the season. Manning had 24 TDs against just eight interceptions over the final 13 games and won the third of his four MVPs in Indy.
During the nine-game winning streak, Manning completed 72.1% of his passes with 17 TDs, three interceptions and a 109.7 rating.
Reich anticipates a similar path for Leonard.
“This has happened to everybody, right?’’ he said. “This happens to all the great ones. I remember back in 2008 and Peyton had a knee and he played the first four games, and he was a mere shell of (himself). But we found ways to win those games and he found ways to play winning football until he finally around week 5 or week 6 hit his stride.
“So my guess is whenever it is (Leonard) gets cleared, it’s going to be the same way. He is going to have to figure out how to play feeling the way he feels. Not feeling 100%, feeling like maybe this isn’t quite all the way back, but I’ve still got to figure out how to play winning football.’’
Complicating matters for Leonard is he also missed all of the on-field work during the offseason. The defense is in transition mode from Matt Eberflus to Gus Bradley.
That’s a wrap with Lions, for now
Thursday was the second of two joint workdays with the Lions at Grand Park Sports Campus, and the combined work was deemed an overwhelming success.
“Two good, spirited practices,’’ Reich said.
Thursday’s team work focused on specific situations: red zone, third-down and first- and second-down.
Wednesday, Matt Ryan and the passing game dominated red-zone work with Ryan tossing TDs to Alec Pierce, Michael Pittman Jr. and Ashton Dulin.
Thursday, the play-calling was more run-centric and the Lions prevailed near the goal line. On one play, Nyheim Hines stopped for a loss. On another, Jonathan Taylor failed to reach the end zone.
“Was obviously disappointed in the goal-line situations,’’ Reich said.
What had to be reassuring to the Colts was Taylor breaking loose earlier in team activities. He took a handoff from Ryan, turned the left corner and had what would have been a 30- or 40-yard gain.
Reich valued the two days of work with the Lions, perhaps more than a normal preseason game. In a game, there are no assurances the starting offense or defense will be exposed to a variety of situations that better prepare them for the season.
“You just get so many more (in joint practices) and you can control what situations you get,’’ Reich said. “You don’t always get every situation in a game.
“But when you practice against a team, we can make sure to get the situations that we know we need to work on.’’
The starting units got roughly 40 snaps in the two practices against the Lions. In the preseason opener at Buffalo, Ryan was on the field for 19 plays.
“Yeah, I think it’s been good work for us the last couple of days,’’ he said. “Seeing different looks, going against different players, different fronts, pass-rush games. All those kinds of things are huge as you get ready and prepared for the season.
“I think it was a really valuable two days for us.’’
About Saturday’s game
Reich and Lions coach Dan Campbell agreed beforehand to go hard in the shared practices, then not play many starters Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Most of the 1s won’t play,’’ Reich said. “There may be one or two exceptions to that, where we think we need to because of depth or how many guys have to play.
“But for the most part, the 1s will not play.’’
Backup quarterback Nick Foles is expected to play about a quarter before giving way to Sam Ehlinger, who’ll play a quarter or a quarter-and-a-half. Rookie Jack Coan will finish.
Dennis Kelly recently had a procedure on his knee, which is the reason the veteran offensive tackle has missed a good portion of training camp.
“Making good progress,’’ Reich said. “He had a procedure and everything went well and he’s doing very well. Talked to him this morning. Good spirits, making good progress.’’
About that brace
Ryan brought attention to himself Wednesday when he practiced with a brace on his left knee. Turns out, that’s just his normal routine to protect his lead leg when throwing.
“Yeah, I’ve worn a brace on my left knee since college,’’ he said. “I don’t typically wear it during practice. Just going against another team – not that I thought anything would happen – but you just don’t know. The competitiveness and it can be non-intentional, too.’’
The brace wasn’t obvious when Ryan wore it at Buffalo.
Tough break for Ogletree
Drew Ogletree was a spectator at Thursday’s practice. The rookie tight end wore a brace on his right knee after suffering a season-ending injury in Wednesday’s practice.
Before Ogletree undergoes surgery and deals with extensive rehab, he received a boost from his coach and quarterback.
“He is obviously hurting . . . but positive,’’ Reich said. “He’s got special character, so he wanted to be out there with the team today.’’
Reich said the magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed Ogletree tore his anterior cruciate ligament, but there was no further damage.
“It could have been other things and it wasn’t, so it’s usually about a nine-month timetable,’’ Reich said.
Ryan said Ogletree had impressed everyone with his “savvy, the hands, the way he blocks.’’
“It’s unfortunate when you see stuff like that. It’s hard,’’ he said. “You don’t become numb to it even when you play for a long time. It sucks when you see something like that.
“You feel for him. I was telling him yesterday, he’s going to have a bright future around here. I think everybody in this building knows what he’s capable of doing and to try to stay positive and just attack this rehab and get back as fast as he can.’’
Rodrigo Blankenship tightened his grip on the placekicking spot Thursday. The incumbent kicker was perfect of five field goal attempts: 33, 40, 45, 50 and 54 yards.
Jake Verity was 4-of-5. He pushed the 54-yarder wide right. Verity also was wide right on a PAT at Buffalo.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.