Leonard likely to add leadership responsibilities in 2021

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

May 18—Darius Leonard has always been an early riser.

Most days this offseason, he was awake at 4:30 a.m. and in his gym in Tampa, Florida — Yo Murphy Performance — by 5 a.m. His work day was done by 10 a.m.

"I always said I like to eat while everybody's sleeping," Leonard said Tuesday during a video conference call with local media. "Then you never have to share what's on your plate."

It's small wonder the three-time All-Pro linebacker has proven to be a perfect fit for the Indianapolis Colts' relentless defensive style. It's all about effort under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, and now — more than ever — Leonard will be asked to help set the standard.

It's been an offseason of change in Indianapolis. A new starting quarterback (Carson Wentz), a new left tackle (Eric Fisher) and two highly regarded rookie pass rushers (Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo) have been added to the mix. But the departure of middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. has largely flown under the radar.

Walker was one of Leonard's closest friends on the team, a veteran leader who held teammates accountable on and off the field. His loss will be felt in significant ways throughout the 2021 season.

"You're losing a great leader — a great leader, a great teammate and a great friend," Leonard said. "For a defense to lose someone like that, that hurts. He was one of the biggest guys in the locker room, especially teaching the guys the playbook because, like you said, especially when the rookies come in you need someone to lean on, and Anthony Walker was that for me. For him to go, it sucks, but now other people have to step up.

"Other people have to have them conversations of what the standard is or to tell someone you're doing this wrong, this is what it's gotta be. I'm gonna have to quit being this friendly guy, quit being this guy that just smiles all the time and just goes about doing it his way."

It's a big season for Leonard.

Colts owner Jim Irsay has strongly suggested a contract extension is near, even going so far as to predict it will be done before training camp begins. Leonard is happy the franchise sees his value, and he's optimistic about the potential deal. But he's not putting any extra pressure on his shoulders.

Leonard's always been an energy source for Indianapolis. His boundless enthusiasm is evident every day, and that all-out approach isn't likely to be altered significantly.

The biggest changes will take place behind the scenes.

Walker was a stickler for detail with off-the-charts intelligence. He saw things on tape others did not and asked the questions others wouldn't think to ask. It's a role Leonard — who served as a part-time coach at his high school in Lakeview, South Carolina, during his college offseasons — is willing to accept.

"Usually it's Anthony Walker or (fellow linebacker) Zaire Franklin that asks the question that some linebackers don't understand or don't really see while watching film," he said. "Now I'm really gonna have to look at the tape more seriously and really ask questions that they don't think about so whenever it's time to go in the game or in practice and do that, it's already covered."

Leonard's always looking for new challenges. He'll create them if he has to.

The one visitor to his early morning workouts this offseason was Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith. The Heisman Trophy winner and 10th overall draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles shares Leonard's work ethic, and the linebacker was eager to test himself against the rising young star.

He plans to do the same with rookie teammates Paye and Odeyingbo. Leonard believes in a system where players push each other and the resulting competition makes everybody better.

"I lead by example," he said. "When the (starters) go out there, I'm gonna give it everything I got. I'm out there full of energy. I'm pushing everybody, and once you see the ones go out there and do that, you know the twos or whoever will follow suit. Because they don't want to be the one to get called out.

"So, I mean, they know the standard, they see the standard and they know that they gotta be the standard if they wanna come out and play for the Colts' defense."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting