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Colts’ Shaquille Leonard missed just his first practice of 2023, and that is remarkable

Leonard missed his first practice of the year with an undisclosed injury. His return is the real story.

NFL: JUL 29 Indianapolis Colts Training Camp Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Shaquille Leonard missed his first practice of the year as the Indianapolis Colts concluded training camp in Westfield.

Shane Steichen wasn’t available to the media after practice, so the current status of the All-Pro linebacker is still unknown. Leonard has dealt with more than his share of injuries recently, so Colts fans are certainly hopeful it is more of a precaution.

The real story isn’t that Leonard missed his first practice, though. The real story is that he has even been on the field at all. After dealing with nerve issues in his back, Leonard missed almost the entirety of the 2022 season, and the Colts felt it going 4-12-1.

From 2018-2021, Leonard earned three first-team AP All Pro nods and three Pro Bowl spots; he picked off 11 passes and forced 17 fumbles, making him the only player in the NFL in that span to have both double-digit interceptions and forced fumbles. Leonard’s preternatural ability to take the ball away is the kind of thing that can push a solid defense to be a great defense, and the Colts missed it in 2022

That level of production is not easy to replace. More than that, Leonard is the heart and soul of the team. You could see on the sidelines throughout the year how much it killed him to not be part of the action.

This franchise has been snake-bitten when it comes to lingering injuries as evident by the Andrew Luck saga that eventually led to his retirement. You couldn’t blame fans if they felt they had seen this one before and were pessimistic about Leonard’s potential return. The plan in 2022 was to return to full go, but things never really got off the ground.

Leonard missed the first part of the most recent season while rehabbing from offseason back surgery, only to come back in Week 4 and immediately suffer a concussion and broken nose, which sidelined him for an additional three weeks. Leonard played in two more games in October before a return of his back issues led to him having surgery and being placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

Many fans (myself included) were bracing themselves for a reality in which Leonard never returned to the field. We have seen the nagging injury that won’t go away. We have received the reports that a player is getting better and should return to action soon. We have seen that return be further delayed until the season is lost. Can you blame Colts fans for being nervous? Boy, were we wrong.

The jury is still out on what version of Shaq Leonard we will see because a back injury for any professional athlete is never good, but it is even more concerning for a linebacker that has to take on 300+ pound linemen in the trenches. While we don’t know what version we will get or even how much he will be able to play to start the season, Colts fans are sure that Leonard is doing everything he can to reach the Maniac of old.