INDIANAPOLIS — The 2022 season could be the first with a healthy left ankle for Colts All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard.
Leonard, who practiced this week for the first time since last season, said recent surgery to fix a nerve problem that caused lower-body pain has left him pain-free for the first time since his 2018 rookie season.
After Colts director Chris Ballard said on Wednesday that Leonard had been uncomfortable since 2019, Leonard corrected the record on Thursday.
“They said ’19? I’d say ’18,” Leonard said. “If you think about 2018 week 4 against Houston, I rolled an ankle and sat out week 5 against the Patriots and came back against the Jets, and you can tell I’ve had it taped ever since. So it’s been a minute since I I felt the way I feel now It’s a good feeling but it’s still a process I’m not saying I’m ready to go now I’m still trying to figure things out But I feel better So that is the most important.”
Leonard underwent ankle surgery ahead of the 2021 season but was severely hampered by persistent pain throughout the season. He even went so far as to start sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber in an effort to deal with the injury. Leonard’s agility and speed were visibly affected, though he was still voted first-team All-Pro for the third time and led the NFL with eight forced fumbles. The surgery in 2021 solved some problems in the ankle, but the nerve problem continued to cause him pain and was only diagnosed this summer.
In the process, Leonard learned to play hurt.
“Pain is temporary, pride is forever,” he said. “If I can go, I go. That’s my way of thinking. I just feel like even if I’m hurt, if I’m not out there hurting the team, I think I can be out there.”
But as the recovery from his recent surgery continued and Leonard was sidelined, he struggled to cope.
“Football is my happy place,” he said. “Football is my safe haven. It’s something I like to do. I like to compete.”
Leonard would not commit to playing in the September 11 season opener against the Houston Texans. But every time he comes back, the idea of being healthy for the first time in years is tempting.
“I just feel like if Shaquille can be healthy for a season and be able to plant and cut like I once was,” he said, “I just feel like I’ll be flying around a lot better and a few more will make plays, just more fresh from my breaks and be in [throwing] windows more.”
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