INDIANAPOLIS – There’s an edge to nearly every word Darius Leonard speaks.
It’s an intensity born not of anger or resentment but dripping with passion. During his near daily chats with the media at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Leonard speaks unfiltered from his heart.
He plays with the same style on the field. Direct, aggressive, relentless.
On Tuesday night, it produced a Pro Bowl berth for the first time – correcting one of the few accolades that did not come Leonard’s way during his rookie season in 2018.
By Wednesday afternoon, whatever personal satisfaction the 24-year-old derived from the honor (and it was significant) had already begun to subside.
The Indianapolis Colts (6-8) were eliminated from the postseason chase Monday with a 34-7 loss against the New Orleans Saints. The team has lost four in a row and six of its last seven overall.
And those numbers interest Leonard far more than his impending trip to the NFL’s annual all-star game next month.
“It was great to be announced finally in the Pro Bowl, but as a team, it still hurts,” Leonard said. “We’re not where we want to be, and we’ve still got so much improvement (to make). That’s where my focus is at.
“We’ve gotta find a way to win. I need to get this nasty taste out of my mouth, so I’m definitely more worried about winning ball games than the Pro Bowl.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t take time to savor the moment.
Leonard was watching the Indiana Pacers upset the Los Angeles Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse when he got the Pro Bowl news. And he admits it came as a surprise.
The linebacker checked in weekly with Colts social media guru Amber Derrow for updates on the fan voting. When he still hadn’t cracked the top 10 last week, he assumed the dream would be deferred for another year.
But his fellow players and coaches voted him into the game as a starter for the AFC.
It represents another summit in a two-year career already filled with individual accomplishment. Still, Leonard is hungry for more.
“My name’s not at the top of any of the goal sheets I want,” he said. “I’m not a Super Bowl MVP. I’m not the defensive MVP. I’m not none of that stuff.
“There’s so many things that I want to be great at, and right now I’m just a good linebacker. I’m aiming for being great.”
He’s off to a most impressive start.
Despite missing three games after a concussion, Leonard leads the team with 104 tackles, four interceptions and six passes defensed. He’s tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles, ranks second with five sacks and is tied for second with six tackles for loss.
It’s quite a stat line and one Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said represents a team accomplishment.
“He’s in the perfect scheme for a guy with his abilities,” Reich said. “What that defensive line does in front of him, with the patterns that we run, our scheme is set up to free up Darius to make the plays that he makes.”
There would be no argument from Leonard.
Everything comes back to the team with him. That list of lofty career goals? They’d all come in service to the team.
The Super Bowl MVP has only once come from the losing team in 53 years of existence. And how many times is the NFL’s defensive player of the year on the outside looking in at the playoff bracket?
Leonard sees individual honors as the byproduct of team success, and he can’t stomach any more losses.
The defense has fallen apart in the past two weeks, surrendering 72 points and 766 total yards to the Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Leonard chalks much of the struggles up to self-inflicted wounds and has a clear-cut recipe for future success.
It mirrors his personal accountability.
“We’ve gotta play 60 minutes of great football,” he said. “Not good or OK, but it’s gotta be great all the way through.”
Indianapolis signed free agent cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun on Wednesday and placed safety Rolan Milligan on injured reserve.
Boddy-Calhoun has appeared in 44 games for the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans since 2016. He has 130 career tackles, three interceptions and two sacks.
Milligan played in 11 games this season and finished with 10 tackles.
Four Colts were listed as “did not participate” in Wednesday’s practice. Coming off the Monday night game, the team held a modified walkthrough, and all practice participation was estimated.
Sitting out were defensive lineman Denico Autry (concussion), safety Malik Hooker (hand), cornerback Kenny Moore II (ankle) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (shoulder).
Moore has missed the past two games, and it seems likely Autry won’t play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring) was listed as limited after leaving the loss against the Saints early.