INDIANAPOLIS – The wait appears to be over for Shaquille Leonard.
The All-Pro linebacker is in line to make his first appearance of the season Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts meet the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Leonard is listed questionable for the early AFC South showdown, but that’s a marked upgrade over the previous three weeks when he was ruled out on Friday’s status report. He went through another week of full participation in practice.
The final determination for Sunday will be made when coach Frank Reich, general manager Chris Ballard, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and the medical/training staff meet and one last time analyze video from Leonard’s recent practices.
“He’s had three pretty good days and continued to make progress, so let’s see how he responds,’’ Reich said Friday.
If all the boxes are checked and Leonard is cleared for Sunday, Reich conceded his star ‘backer isn’t likely to be 100%.
“I wouldn’t say all the way back,’’ he said. “He’s not going to be 100%. But we think when he plays we will have made the conclusion that he can play winning football and help us win a game and not be a negative factor.
“That’s ultimately all that really matters.’’
Zaire Franklin, who has handled a heavier workload while Leonard has worked his way through rehabilitation following back surgery in June, stopped just short of confirming his teammate will be on the field against the Titans.
“Now that he’s back it’s great to be able to compete and get better together,’’ he said. “Just happy to see him be able to move.
“It’s been a long journey for him.’’
That journey began in June when Leonard underwent surgery on two disks in his back that were pressing on nerves which created issues with his left calf and ankle.
He opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and was added to the active roster Aug. 30. Leonard’s been practicing on a full-time basis since the season began but hasn’t made the necessary progress for him to take his natural position as the team’s defensive catalyst.
“If I’m ready to go, I’m gonna play,’’ Leonard said Thursday. “Everybody knows me. I went out there last year with one ankle.
“I love this game, love this game with all my heart, and I’ll do anything to play this game for a hundred years.’’
His first step into 2022 should come against the Titans.
Franklin insisted Leonard didn’t approach this week of preparation any different than the previous weeks, when he likely wasn’t going to play.
“He was turned up when he wasn’t playing,’’ he said. “He’s turned up now that he’s got a shot to play. When he (does) play, it’s going to be something special.
“When you get closer to that finish line, you just start pushing more and more. I know he’s looking forward to the opportunity.’’
The defense is coming off a strong performance in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. But Leonard has the ability to take things to another level. He was selected first-team All-Pro for a third time last season on the strength of four interceptions, a league-best eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
“It’s going to be major,’’ Franklin said. “We all know what he brings, just taking the ball away, that big play, that energy on the field.
“We just know what having 5-3 around means.’’
“As great as Zaire is playing – and he’s playing great – you still want to get Shaq back on the field as soon as you can because for four years he’s proven he’s if not the best linebacker in the NFL, certainly one of them,’’ he said.
It remains to be seen if Leonard will be on a pitch count when he’s back on the field.
“The original plan was ‘When he plays eventually . . . probably makes sense to start with a pitch count,’’’ Reich said. “But you don’t want to limit yourself. You adapt as you go.’’
More medical matters
Safety Julian Blackmon has been ruled out of Sunday’s game. Reich said he’s week-to-week with an ankle injury.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who didn’t practice this week, is questionable with an elbow injury.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.