The Indianapolis Colts have emphasized creating balance on the football field, and Chris Ballard has gone to great lengths to put together a solid defensive unit. This year has been no different. With an impressive linebacker depth chart, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley has quite the enviable problem: managing a wealth of talent.
Earlier this week, Bradley was refreshingly upfront in a sports landscape often filled with guarded responses while addressing questions about Shaquille Leonard’s recent comments regarding his playing time and ability to make “splash plays.”
“Shaq is frustrated with wanting to be on the field more,” Bradley acknowledged while emphasizing the universality of such workplace frustrations. Leonard’s openness about the conversations and expectations set by the coaches speaks to the transparency within the Colts’ organization.
Bradley pointed to the accountability that’s asked of every player. “That hey, this is what is going on, this is what we need from you,” Bradley explained, explaining the team’s communication culture.
What stands out in Bradley’s answer is the detailing of individual player situations and his commentary on the emergent leadership within the team’s ranks. The sudden absence of Zaire Franklin last week thrust Leonard into a more pronounced role, which he embraced, bringing his team “back right” after a struggle in the red zone during practice. Bradley’s description of Leonard stepping up in Franklin’s absence highlights the linebacker room's depth of character and talent.
The talk around Leonard’s playtime leads to broader discussions on player efficiency and game strategy, with Bradley noting, “It is a process.” He detailed the team’s decision-making on best utilizing their linebackers, including E.J. Speed, who’s also making a strong case for increased field time.
Bradley evaluated Leonard and Speed, noting that their snaps will be partly influenced by how much time the defense is in nickel packages. He also noted that Speed also wants to be on the field more and wants to make more of an impact in games when the situation calls for Leonard to be on the field more. As Bradley put it, “They’re great friends and great competitive friends, but they’re both battling for playing time.” This internal competition is a driving force behind the enhanced performance of the Colts’ defense, posing a “good problem” of having too much talent competing for the field.
As the Colts navigate through the season, the depth at linebacker not only promises excellent on-field production but also reminds fans about the human side of the challenges facing these players as they hope to make their mark in a competitive league. The Colts’ linebacker conundrum is a problem that many teams wish they had, and for Bradley and the Colts, it’s one that they are managing openly.