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Colts make final Week 1 decision on Shaquille Leonard ahead of Texans clash

Shaquille Leonard, Colts

The Indianapolis Colts will be forced to kick off the 2022 season without their best defensive player. The team announced on Friday that superstar linebacker Shaquille Leonard will miss Sunday’s season opener at the Houston Texans as he continues recovering from offseason back surgery.

Leonard made his first practice appearance on August 31st, the day after Indianapolis included him on its 53-man roster, ensuring he wouldn’t be automatically sidelined for the first four games of the season. The three-time First Team All-Pro honoree was a full participant in Wednesday’s non-padded practice and limited participant in Thursday’s padded practice, evidence that he was unlikely to be ready to play in Week 1.

“Feel good about the progress he’s making,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “But we just felt after talking with Shaq, talking with the trainers, doctors, that it was the best thing for him and for our team to hold him out this week.”

The Colts announced in early June that Leonard had undergone back surgery, an initially vexing development considering he dealt with ankle issues throughout 2021. He quickly set the record straight, though, calming worried Indianapolis fans by telling Pat McAfee his persistent ankle discomfort was linked to nerve problems in his back addressed by the surgery.

Leonard has established himself as arguably the league’s best inside linebacker since the Colts selected him with the 36th overall pick of the 2018 draft. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year as a small-school prospect out of South Carolina State, then made the first of his three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances the following season.

Expect fourth-year pro E.J. Speed to take the majority of snaps at inside linebacker against the Texans.