While Indianapolis Colts' star linebacker Darius Leonard still has a long way to go in equaling former Colts' star pass rusher Robert Mathis's 54 forced fumbles, the All-Pro linebacker is surely off to a fast start.
On Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Leonard punched the ball out of running back Chris Carson's grasp, recording his 10th career forced fumble, drawing the attention of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and third-year linebacker Bobby Okereke.
Leonard's forced fumble was of the famous "Peanut Punch" variety, showing shades of former Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who made a habit of violently punching the football out of the runner's grasp.
“I think last week was a great example and then I think you look at 2018 versus the Raiders that punch out he had in the hole," Okereke said to reporters Thursday regarding Leonard's forced fumble. "It’s kind of like a tomahawk chop and he really just comes in with ultimate violence and you see him, he wraps up on the tackle he doesn’t really sell himself out on the punch out. He punches out, wraps up, just excellent technique and he’s been successful with it.”
Some may see it as Leonard just punching wildly in search of the football, hoping for a force out, but the fourth-year linebacker has turned it into his go-to move as of late without sacrificing his ability to make tackles.
“I think there’s an innate ability for sure. The ability to see that and the timing of it and then the talent level to be able to do that like (Charles) Tillman did and like Darius (Leonard) does," Colts' defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said to reporters Tuesday. "There’s certainly an innate ability to do that. Guys can learn from that because he’s constantly doing it and every time he makes a tackle he has a strip attempt. He’s really good at it.”
While many can certainly learn from Leonard by watching the tape, few can truly replicate the punch out at the rate of success the All-Pro linebacker has in his career.
Okereke has had a close, in-person view of the work Leonard has put in when it comes to working on punching the football out. As for Eberflus, the longtime Colts' defensive coordinator stated that Leonard picks and chooses when to unleash the weapon that is his punch out, saving it for certain moments and opponents throughout the season.
“I think you look at the ball security in terms of the opponent you are playing, when your opportunities come and when your chances are there," Eberflus said. "I think it is his daily habits and his practice habits. If you watch him in practice he’s constantly doing that. That’s something that’s a muscle memory thing for him. He’s really our guy that does it the most in practice and you therefore see it in the games. That one there was very similar to the one he had his rookie year. I believe it was out at Oakland maybe, but very similar to that. It was a really good punch. A great opportunity for our football team there. He did a really good job.”
Though Leonard's overall performance was not up to snuff — nor was the defense's as a whole — on Sunday, he was able to get off to a fast start in the turnover department, punching the football out of Carson's grasp.
We'll see if the trend continues throughout the 2021 season, and if any of his teammates join in down the road.
Have thoughts on Darius Leonard's play punching the football out of Chris Carson's grasp? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!