INDIANAPOLIS – Game-day nerves for the first day of an hour-long training camp practice?
Oh yeah, Shaquille Leonard felt those on Tuesday night, carrying into Wednesday morning.
That’s what happens when you have had 3 surgeries to try and correct a nagging issue, played in just 3 games last season and haven’t practiced in 9 months.
And you love football like No. 53 does.
“This was a game day for me,” Leonard shared on Wednesday, following his first practice since last November. “The first time (practicing in a while). No sleep last night. Jitterbugs all morning.
“Probably didn’t truly feel like myself until after individual (period). After that, it just felt right where I left off at, being a leader for this team and trying to run around and hopefully make some plays.”
The amount of work Leonard received on Wednesday really stood out.
Understandably, Chris Ballard cautioned on Tuesday how the Colts would need to slowly re-integrate Leonard back into practice.
But Leonard participated in all 3 practice drills on Wednesday (individual, 7-on-7, team).
He took part in every 11-on-11 session, repping for the first two plays of each of the three periods. In total, Leonard was on the field for 40 percent of the starting reps on Wednesday.
Leonard admitted after Wednesday’s practice he was pretty surprised by how much activity he did on Day 1 of camp.
And he also added he still needed to take a look at the film before feeling really good about the work he got in.
“I feel way different than I did last year,” was Leonard’s statement after the first practice.
“Coming into today, I was still in the dark (on how I’d look). I won’t say I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel until I watch the tape and see how I’m moving, how I was competing against my teammates and then I can feel better about myself.”
Having to be on the sidelines and watch so much over the last year was a “punch in the gut” according to Leonard.
That’s why he found himself so emotional for a day many in the NFL call routine.
“That was emotional for me,” Leonard said of hearing the crowd cheering for him on Wednesday. “It’s been a long journey. A lot of bad things people have been saying, saying I was just sitting out to sit out, not understanding I’m always fighting my tail off to get back and be the best version of myself for this team. To come out here and hear the crowd and excitement, that just reassures these fans are still with me, I’m doing something right.
“I was talking to someone today about being nervous. It’s because I care so much. I care so much about football. I love what I do. Football is the only thing in my life that makes me want to stop all the bad things going on in my life, all the stress that’s going on. When I step in between those lines, that’s the only time where all of that comes to a pause. Once that was taken away from me, my safe haven was gone. Now that I’m back, it’s a blessing. That’s why I was so nervous last night because I didn’t want to come out and have a repeat of last year.”
Many more steps are needed before Leonard is completely back to his old self.
Wednesday was a sign of some of that spring optimism Leonard felt though.
Day One was a definite success, especially when you compare it to how the last two opening days at training camp have gone for The Maniac.
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