Indianapolis Colts LB Shaquille Leonard ruled out; WRs Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce expected to play

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard has made “incremental progress” in his return from back surgery but remains unable to “play winning football and feel confident,” coach Frank Reich said Friday.

Leonard was ruled out of the Sunday game against the Kansas City Chiefs despite having practiced with the Colts for the past three weeks, prompting questions about the timeline for the three-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Reich spoke expansively about Leonard’s status for the first time in weeks, saying the team is making its own evaluations of the linebacker’s ability to return to action as well as closely following the player’s guidance.

“It’s a collaborative decision,” Reich said. “But obviously the player’s the one who’s got to play. And only he truly knows how it feels. So, we watch tape and we can see when you look at tape from last year or the year before versus tape now, and you watch him move, we’re doing that. And it’s not the same. We need it to look the same. From our standpoint, we need that tape to look like what it looked like when you were relatively healthy.

“That’s one side of it. And then the side from Shaq is that he needs to feel it. So, that’s where it’s collaborative.”

Leonard underwent back surgery in June to address lower-body pain stemming from a nerve issue. While Leonard and the Colts have said the procedure resolved the problem, the recovery from the surgery has been a lengthy process.

“This injury, it’s a bear,” Reich said. “He’s fighting and scratching every second to get back on the field. I promise you that. He is doing everything he can to get back out there. It’s killing him.” The Colts considered placing Leonard on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve at an earlier point, but those options would have prevented him from practicing with the team.

“We knew when you don’t take those other steps, everybody’s going to think [he’s playing] Week 1, Week 2,” Reich said. “It was taking a little bit of a gamble that the last step would go faster than according to plan, but everything is going according to plan. This is a tough injury, he’s handling it the right way, he has the right attitude and we’re going to continue just going down this course.”

Elsewhere, the Colts got positive injury news with the expected returns of receivers Michael Pittman Jr. (quad) and Alec Pierce (concussion). Pittman, according to Reich, is “ready to go.” Pierce, Reich said, cleared the concussion protocol Thursday and will play.

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (back) will be listed as questionable.

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