INDIANAPOLIS — Darius Leonard was in a darkish place late final season, as what had been a promising Indianapolis Colts season was collapsing across the linebacker and the remainder of the group.
An ankle harm that bothered him nonstop. Members of the family coping with well being points. COVID-19 hitting key members of the workforce, together with himself. And to cap issues off, the Colts’ playoff aspirations got here to a screeching halt with a Week 18 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who completed with the league’s worst report regardless of the win. That season-ending loss had proprietor Jim Irsay fuming in the course of the sport, on the aircraft journey dwelling and contained in the workforce facility when he returned.
Some four-plus months later, Leonard, who usually tries to maintain his greatest sport face on in entrance of the digicam, acknowledged issues weren’t proper with him final season.
“I fell out of affection with the sport,” Leonard stated. “I wasn’t having fun with it anymore.”
That’s one thing no one would have ever imagined popping out of Leonard’s mouth. Not the identical Darius Leonard who makes use of each type of negativity as a motivation when he was making numerous tackles, intercepting passes or attacking like Mike Tyson when he punches the ball out of opponents’ arms for a compelled fumble.
However that’s how Leonard felt after the Colts couldn’t beat the Jaguars in a sport through which the protection had no solutions for rookie Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville’s offense in Week 18.
“The primary month, I didn’t wanna go dwelling, didn’t wanna be round anyone, didn’t wanna face it but,” Leonard stated. “As a result of the query was gonna come: What the hell occurred in Jacksonville? And in that second, I actually didn’t know what occurred.”
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Leonard by no means thought he would wish to step away — not when there was some extent within the season when the Colts have been one of many hottest groups within the NFL and had some pundits calling them contenders within the AFC.
Even Leonard, who confronted adversity all through his life, was crushed up mentally and bodily over what ended up being probably the most attempting season of his four-year NFL profession, which incorporates being named a first-team All-Professional thrice.
“You maintain in all of your feelings,” Leonard stated. “You set a smile on so many different folks’s faces, and the time that you simply want it — lots of people who’re round you, they see you smile on a regular basis; they don’t perceive that simply because I smile generally, I ask all people how they’re doing — generally it’s OK to ask me how am I doing?
“Ask and actually have a dialog with me and perceive that I’m human, too. I’ve issues. I am going by plenty of issues that lots of people are going by. … You sit right here and you’re feeling like you need to maintain a shade up along with your private life as a result of your soccer life eats you up, and I simply wasn’t in a very good psychological place as a result of I wouldn’t be round my household at any time when they wanted it.”
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The Colts’ linebackers are one of many closest teams on the roster. Fellow starters Zaire Franklin and Bobby Okereke knew what Leonard had gone by the previous few months.
“The best way the season ended type of broke all of our hearts in several methods, and I might say that all of us must undergo our personal type of therapeutic course of to get again rolling,” Franklin stated. “For me, it was so much totally different … I can see what Darius went by.
“That’s good for him, any person who dedicates a lot to the sport and works so laborious at it. A whole lot of occasions you want that point to step away from ball, be with household, get a perspective of the world. I positively really feel like he’s in a greater spirit this 12 months. I inform [Leonard] on a regular basis, I’m at all times there to help him, at all times have his again it doesn’t matter what.”
Leonard is again, he says he’s wholesome, and the protection has introduced in vital additions in cornerback Stephon Gilmore (the NFL Defensive Participant of the Yr in 2019), defensive finish Yannick Ngakoue and coordinator Gus Bradley, who changed Matt Eberflus after he left to educate the Chicago Bears.
“Made me glad, particularly with the frenzy, serving to [DeForest Buckner] and [Kwity Paye], including [Ngakoue] and a shutdown nook in Gilmore,” Leonard stated. “You consider all of the takeaways we’re going to have. Stephon is nice at monitoring the ball. It’s a greater alternative for us to get extra takeaways. … We’ve to have 40-plus takeaways within the season.”
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