INDIANAPOLIS – With their first 53-man roster assembled, the Colts were back to work on Wednesday, practicing at their team facility with training camp over.
The big news on Wednesday centered around Shaquille Leonard practicing and Chris Ballard explaining his reasoning behind roster cuts.
Here is a notebook recap from Leonard’s return and Ballard’s thoughts:
- Some 12 weeks and 1 day after having back surgery to address his continued ankle situation, Shaquille Leonard practiced on Wednesday in front of the media for the first time since the Colts season came to an end in January. Leonard was watched closely by the team’s medical rehab staff, as he took part in some positional drills during the open media period. With Wednesday’s practice, that means Leonard could have 6 total opportunities to practice between now and the regular season opens on September 11th in Houston. Leonard’s return to practice is an obvious massive step in him getting closer to clearance for game action. From Leonard being activated from PUP on Tuesday, to his practice presence on Wednesday, we are finally seeing some tangible and positive steps in the right direction for Leonard. Just a reminder, there will be no injury report until regular season practices begin next Wednesday. And media access to practice is now back in regular season mode, so just 20 minutes of observing.
- What did Chris Ballard have to say on Wednesday about Leonard being ready for Week 1? Ballard wouldn’t sniff that, although he did stress the importance for Leonard to ramp it up in practice, following an 8-month break from field work. “Might be Week 1. Might be Week 6,” Ballard said of Leonard’s game debut in 2022. “Has to get his body ready to play. You can’t miss all of that time. He has to practice.”
- The Colts were awarded one waiver claim on Wednesday—acquiring OT-Luke Tenuta from the Bills. To make room for Tenuta, the Colts parted ways with veteran CB-Tony Brown. Tenuta was a 6th round pick out of Virginia Tech from Buffalo. He’s the son of longtime college defensive coach Jon Tenuta. At 6-8, Tenuta certainly brings an imposing frame to the tackle position. He started 14 games at right tackle and 12 games at left tackle in college, moving over to LT once Christian Darrisaw left for the NFL. The Colts offensive staff did get a chance to see Tenuta up close at the East/West Shrine Bowl this year.
- It was expected the Colts would make a move on the offensive line given their lack of experience, but the acquisition for Tenuta doesn’t help in that category. Currently, the Colts have 4 backup offensive linemen. Three are rookies (3rd rounder Bernhard Raimann, 6th rounder Luke Tenuta, undrafted free agent Wesley French) and the other is a 7th round pick from 2021 (Will Fries), who has played 22 career snaps. Compared to last year, the Colts are vastly more inexperienced in their backup offensive line spots. On Wednesday, Chris Ballard certainly hinted that a return of veteran Dennis Kelly could be in play soon. And that came to fruition later in the day as the Colts signed the Purdue product. Kelly has missed the last month due to a knee injury and was cut earlier this week, but he does have over 50 career starts. Ballard downplayed the notion that the youth in the O-line trenches is a concern. Kelly certainly helps in the experience department.
- Chris Ballard has often said you can tell the depth of your roster by seeing how many of your final cuts get claimed around the NFL. Well, the Colts had one (there were 33 total in the NFL). Linebacker Sterling Weatherford was claimed by Matt Eberflus and the Bears. The Colts opted to keep undrafted free agent JoJo Domann, who stood out dating back to the spring. And then the Colts showed a clear desire to find a specific special teamer by trading for Tampa Bay LB-Grant Stuard.
- The GM continues to be very mum on the contract extension for Quenton Nelson. It’s the first time Ballard has extended a first-round pick in his tenure. Is the contract guarantee the big hurdle in this deal getting done before Week 1? Ballard did address the notion of paying non-premium positions top-flight money. “You pay your best players, and he’s special,” Ballard said. “He’s special to us. Hopefully we get things worked out. We’’ll see.”
- Where was the hardest cut for Chris Ballard? He pointed to losing undrafted linebacker Sterling Weatherford to the Bears in waiver claims. But Ballard is pretty high on the special teams impact of new LB-Brian Stuard.
- On the continued T.Y. Hilton/should the Colts make a call front? Ballard says they have not shut the door on that idea. For now though, Ballard says the Colts are sticking with the wideout room they have. Is this the Colts not wanting to completely rule out the seemingly lingering ex-boyfriend? Or is this offering public respect for a Ring of Honor type of player?
- Ballard said the difference in keeping Deon Jackson over Phillip Lindsay definitely involved special teams. But Ballard did not rule out bringing back Lindsay at some point.
- The Colts are not in the market for any more kicking competition for Rodrigo Blankenship, according to Ballard. “He’s our guy,” was his answer when asked about looking for any other kicking competition for Hot Rod.
- The Colts made injured reserve move with rookie safety Trevor Denbow (which led to the Kelly roster spot being open). Ballard said on Wednesday that Denbow will be going to IR (minimum of 3 games missed) with the hope he can return later this season.
- In case you missed it, the Colts have put 13 players on their 16-man practice squad.
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