The Indianapolis Colts announced on Saturday that the team has officially activated wide receiver Ashton Dulin off of injured reserve and placed star linebacker Shaquille Leonard (back/ankle) on injured reserve—while promoting both running back Jordan Wilkins and tight end Nikola Kalinic from the team’s practice squad.
Having Dulin return should provide the Colts another solid wide receiver for their rotation—and a reliable deep threat, who’s also one of the team’s best special teams contributors.
However, the big news here is obviously Leonard.
The 4x NFL All-Pro linebacker had offseason back surgery to help correct a lingering pinched nerve issue that was also affecting his troublesome ankle.
Having never quite looked like himself the entire 2022 season, Leonard indicated that he suffered a ‘setback’ during Wednesday’s practice and was subsequently placed on injured reserve—later issuing an apology to the Horseshoe faithful:
Colts All Pro LB, Shaquille Leonard, issues an apology to Colts Nation:— Colts Militia (@coltsmilitia_) November 12, 2022
The comeback is always greater than the setback✊ pic.twitter.com/IheH5d49Xj
During August of last year, Leonard signed a 5-year, nearly $100M deal with $52.5M guaranteed, and he absolutely played up to that contract in 2021—racking up 122 tackles (75 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 8 passes defensed, 8 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries during 16 starts—en route to First-Team NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
However, he’s clearly been laboring a bit through multiple injuries and looked a step slow on the field post-back surgery so far this season.
With two Colts’ starting linebackers, Bobby Okereke and Zaire Franklin already playing well this season, and Indianapolis looking like it’s punting on the remainder of the campaign (as it positions for a better draft pick), it makes sense that Indianapolis would simply shut Leonard down for now—and maybe even for the rest of the season, depending on how things go with his recovery.
The hope is that this is not a career-threatening injury and an extra year fully removed from offseason back surgery will help the 27 year old Leonard better recover.
That being said, back surgeries can be tricky, much less when dealing with nerve issues and playing one of the league’s most physical positions at linebacker—where highly forceful collisions are constant on a play-by-play basis and any extra millisecond of speed helps in coverage.
Leonard’s cloudy football future could impact how the Colts decide to negotiate with soon-to-be free agent linebacker Bobby Okereke, as well as impactful reserve E.J. Speed.
Meanwhile, Wilkins figures to fill the backup change-of-pace running back spot previously occupied by Phillip Lindsay on the active 53-man roster, with Jonathan Taylor back and Deon Jackson (knee) out. Kalinic should be utilized as a backup tight end in the place of the already inactive Jelani Woods (shoulder).