Colts' Frank Reich: Shaquille Leonard likely won't be 100 percent when he returns

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich remains optimistic that star linebacker Shaquille Leonard will be ready to play Week 1 despite undergoing back surgery in June.

But Reich acknowledged Thursday that even if he's cleared to play the season opener, Leonard likely won't be at full force.

"I think when he gets cleared, he's not going to be 100 percent and he's going to have to work his way back into it," Reich said, via ESPN's Stephen Holder. "This has happened to everybody. All the great ones. I remember back in 2008, Peyton (Manning) had the knee (injury) and he played the first four games and he was a mere shell of (himself). But we still found ways to win those games. He found ways to play winning football until he, around Week 5 or Week 6, hit his stride.

"So, my guess is that whenever (Leonard) gets cleared, it's going to be the same way. He's going to have to figure out how to play feeling the way he feels -- not feeling 100%, feeling like maybe this isn't all the way back, but I still gotta figure out how to play winning football."

Leonard is a keystone of the Colts' defense. He is the only player with 10-plus sacks and 10-plus interceptions since 2018 and leads all off-ball linebackers with 11 INTs, 17 forced fumbles and 30 passes defensed over that span. Leonard has been named a first-team All-Pro in three of his first four seasons; only Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor has more first-team All-Pro honors to start a career in the Super Bowl era.

For Reich, having Leonard on the field, even at less than 100 percent, is better than no Leonard at all. But back injuries have a way of lingering. The hope is that even if he's never at 100 percent in 2022, the tackling maven with coverage skills is good enough to help buoy a Colts squad with Super Bowl aspirations.

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