According to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the Indianapolis Colts are still managing starting linebacker Shaquille Leonard’s snap counts in the hopes of fully ramping him up in November (via the IndyStar’s Nate Atkins):
Gus Bradley said the plan for Shaquille Leonard has been to build him back to a place where he can play a full load in November, and he's not there yet.— Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_) October 3, 2023
They like playing E.J. Speed in nickel, and the Rams went all 11-personnel, so that's some of why his playing time dipped.
Leonard played just 37 of the 82 total defensive snaps (45.1%) this past Sunday, whereas fellow linebackers Zaire Franklin and E.J. Speed played 75 and 45 total snaps respectively (even Segun Olubi played 7 snaps in relief of Leonard).
It’s not a very comfortable conversation right now regarding Leonard.
When fully healthy, Leonard is unquestionably one of the best linebackers in all of football and arguably Colts franchise history, as a former 4x NFL All-Pro in his first four seasons.
However, coming off back-to-back surgeries in as many years, it’s a fair question of whether ‘The Maniac’ will ever regain that dynamic form due to potentially lingering nerve issues.
Despite a $19.8M cap hit this season, Leonard has so far been limited to a situational two-down linebacker and typically replaced on obvious passing downs/nickel packages. He’s simply not moving quite as well out there as he used to and has been subbed out in coverage accordingly.
Right now, Leonard is just PFF’s 57th ranked linebacker with a +53.0 overall grade—including a +52.3 coverage grade. He never graded out lower than 70.0 overall in his first four seasons in the league.
No one should write Leonard off yet, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt and some grace, given his ongoing recovery—but at a certain point, that cap number looms large, as does his diminished production/play, and the Colts may have a difficult decision to make.
Raising the question of whether Shaq will actually ever be fully back?