INDIANAPOLIS – As the media entered the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room Thursday, all-pro linebacker Darius Leonard was engaged in another heated game of cornhole.
In passing, one reporter asked the “Maniac” which player is the locker room’s most dangerous with a bean bag in his hand.
“I am,” Leonard said without hesitation. “I ain’t gonna put no man above me.”
That’s a good philosophy on the football field as well.
With 10 tackles last week against the Denver Broncos, Leonard reached 201 for his career. After just 19 games, he’s the fastest to surpass the 200-tackle barrier in nearly 20 years.
“I give all the credit to my guys up front just keeping me free,” Leonard said. “Coach (Matt Eberflus) is drawing up a great game plan that allows me to just run around and make plays.”
The Colts are ecstatic to see the weak-side linebacker running around again.
Leonard suffered a concussion early in a Week 2 win at Tennessee and played through the injury. He believed the symptoms he was feeling were the result of the 90-degree heat and didn’t realize the extent of the damage until a persistent headache appeared the following day.
That headache lasted for the better part of three weeks, and Leonard was forced to watch a trio of games – including the Oct. 6 upset victory at Kansas City – from home.
He returned Oct. 20 against the Houston Texans and promptly recorded a team-high 10 tackles and a game-clinching interception.
In the 15-13 win against Denver, Leonard added 10 more tackles and his second sack of the season.
He’s a far cry from his stated goals of 200 tackles and 10 sacks this season. The concussion ensured those numbers are likely unreachable.
But he’s also quickly put to rest any talk of a sophomore slump.
With the defense leading the way during a three-game winning streak, Leonard is dreaming big.
On Sunday, the Colts visits the Pittsburgh Steelers – a franchise with a defensive tradition considered among the best in the NFL.
It’s a lofty perch Leonard longs to see Indianapolis reach one day.
“I play this game to be known as the best,” he said. “So for this defense, every year we say we want to be the best defense that ever was. So that’s the goal every week, every game and every year.”
The Colts’ offensive line did not enjoy its best performance Sunday against Denver.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was sacked a season-high four times, and the running game averaged just 4.1 yards on 31 carries.
But the unit has built a solid reputation, especially on the left side. Three first-round picks man those positions in left tackle Anthony Castonzo (2011), center Ryan Kelly (2016) and left guard Quenton Nelson (2018).
So, despite the down week, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is expecting a massive challenge Sunday.
“They need no endorsement from me,” he said. “They are a dominant group – particularly that left side. They’ve got a lot of talent over there – a bunch of first-rounders. They flat get after it. I think they set the pace for the group.”
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) and tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) did not participate in Thursday’s practice, raising concerns for their Sunday availability.
But Ebron did post a video to his Instagram account of the pair clowning around in the trainer’s room. Their status will be updated Friday.
Cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) also did not practice Thursday and appears likely to miss his second straight game.
Safety Malik Hooker (knee) and defensive end Justin Houston (calf) were new additions to the report as limited participants. Nelson also was limited for the second straight day and had a neck injury added to his previously disclosed hip condition.
Defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) also was limited for a second straight day.
Defensive lineman Denico Autry (neck), cornerback Kenny Moore II (knee), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (foot) and safety Khari Wills (foot) returned to full practice. Defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (ankle) was a full participant for the second straight day.