INDIANAPOLIS – Darius Leonard must have been a sight.
The all-pro linebacker paced his living room, wearing his helmet and game jersey and yelling at whichever of the three alternating TVs he happened to be in front of. Leonard admits he’s superstitious, and he switched to a different set whenever things started going wrong for his team.
As the Indianapolis Colts scored an upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 6, Leonard was reduced to voicing his unconditional support via social media.
And it ate at him.
“That was one of the hardest things, not being able to be with the guys,” Leonard said Monday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “Especially in that crunch-time game against Kansas City, you wanted to be there for your guys. So I had to let them know that I was watching them and I had the same intensity that I would have had on the field. So I brought it to Twitter, just to let them know I was watching.”
The intensity returned to the locker room immediately alongside Leonard.
On Monday, he was part of a loud group of players involved in a hotly contested game of cornhole. The shouts and barbs going back and forth overwhelmed much of linebacker Anthony Walker’s interview with the media.
But Walker mostly just shook his head and laughed.
It comes with the territory with “The Maniac” back in the house.
“The swagger that he plays with, the confidence that he plays with, just another boost for us,” Walker said of the qualities the reigning defensive rookie of the year brings to the Indianapolis defense. “He’s a special player, so he’ll definitely make a difference.”
That will come Sunday when the Colts host the red-hot Houston Texans in a critical early season AFC South showdown.
But Leonard’s road to that contest involved very little fun and games.
The weakside linebacker said he was concussed on the second or third series against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 15. He lowered his head and he went into the hole to tackle Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, and their helmets crashed together.
Leonard finished the game despite feeling disoriented, chalking up his wooziness to the 90-degree heat. Then he got a headache that didn’t go away for nearly three weeks.
The concussion protocol can be a very scary place for a football player. It’s a huge step forward from the previous system – essentially playing through the pain and causing untold further damage – but it can also be a lonely existence.
While Leonard sat out three consecutive games, he only came to the practice facility for about 30 minutes a day the first two weeks. Just long enough to take his protocol-related tests before returning home to his wife and daughter.
“The third week, that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Now I have a wife and kid. I’ve had a headache for three weeks? Will I ever be the same? Do I keep playing?’” Leonard said. “You have those thoughts in the back of your head.”
That third week began with promise. Leonard returned to practice as a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice and appeared to be headed toward a return for the game at Kansas City.
But the headache returned Thursday, and doctors declined to clear him for full participation.
Finally, during last week’s bye, Leonard’s symptoms cleared.
He’s out of the protocol and ready to get back on the field against the Texans.
With few second thoughts or reservations.
“It was definitely tough,” Leonard said of the process to return. “Now, nothing changes. You still go in with the same mindset to make every single tackle. Once you go in and try to play timid, that’s when things go wrong. You just gotta go in and continue to be you.”
Safety Clayton Geathers also has cleared the concussion protocol after missing the win against the Chiefs.
Fellow safety Malik Hooker is recovering from torn meniscus during the Sept. 22 win against the Atlanta Falcons and was expected to miss four-to-six weeks. He did not participate in Monday’s practice but could get back onto the field as the week moves on.
“We’re hopeful that he keeps progressing,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “We’ll see how the week goes, but he has made good progress.”
The prognosis is not quite as rosy for rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell, who suffered an abdominal injury in the Sept. 29 loss to the Oakland Raiders and had a medical procedure to correct it. But there are some positive indications.
“I’m not sure with him as much (for this week), keeping things optimistic,” Reich said. “But we’re really encouraged with the direction he’s headed.”
Indianapolis officially placed defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle) on injured reserve Monday and signed defensive tackle Carl Davis.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Davis has appeared in 33 games with 12 starts for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens since 2015.