INDIANAPOLIS — “The Maniac” is back, but the Indianapolis Colts could be without the anchor to their offensive line on Sunday at the Detroit Lions.
Colts head coach Frank Reich said Friday that All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard is good to go after missing two games with a groin injury. But Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly didn’t practice after injuring a knee on Wednesday and his status for the 1 p.m. kickoff at Ford Field is uncertain.
If Kelly can’t play, rookie Danny Pinter will make his first NFL start. And that would be asking a lot of a fifth-round draft choice who played offensive tackle at Ball State and has been learning center on the fly.
Reich expressed the expected confidence in the rookie, should it come to that.
“We always thought that was going to be his natural position even watching his college tape, watching him move and getting to know him as a person,” Reich said of Pinter, who has also transitioned to playing offensive guard. “He has the aptitude for that (center) position. So he’s gotten a lot of good work. From day one here, he started taking center reps and obviously had good work this week. So we have a lot of confidence in Danny. Mentally he is ready, and physically he’ll be up to the task if he has to play.”
That Leonard returns is a tremendous boost for the Colts (4-2), who are coming off a bye week and face a Lions (3-3) team that has won three of four. The defense wasn’t the same without its leader, allowing a combined 44 points in the first halves of the last two games. The Colts fell behind 21-0 at home against Cincinnati before rallying for a 31-27 win before the bye.
“I just try to bring that leadership role, that contagious energy through the good and the bad,” said Leonard, hence “The Maniac” nickname. “A lot of people get down on bad plays, but that’s when you have to dig deep. You have to be the leader out there and say, ‘OK you know what, they made a play. It is what it is.’ We always talk about bend but don’t break. As long as the ball is on the one-yard line and our mindset is we have to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to stop them four times in a row and they’ll kick a field goal and we’ll block it.’”
The Colts defense was No. 1 in fewest total yards and points allowed before Leonard hobbled off late in the first half of a Week 4 road win at Chicago. The unit is now ranked No. 2 in total defense and fourth in points allowed.
Leonard was asked what he’s noticed about the defensive slow starts in the past two games.
“I think back to the last game, I honestly feel like we came out flat,” he said of the Bengals game. “Just caught them up on the sideline, just me standing on the sideline it was more so, there was no energy out there. Everything was just flat. I remember the ball was on maybe the one-yard line at the end of the first quarter maybe and I just saw the defense taking the walk down to the opposite side of the field with no energy, a little bit of heads down.
“It was still early in the game so I just let them know, ‘Hey, we got this. We still have plenty of time and we still can make plenty of plays.’ That’s where I think those leadership roles come in. They came out hot. They jumped ahead of us and a lot of people – when you’re down 21, a lot of teams will be like, ‘This game is over.’ But you have to understand that there are four quarters and you have to play until the clock hits zero. I was just glad that we were down and we fought back. That just shows a lot to this team and what we had to bring. We can face any adversity that is thrown at us.”
Tight end Mo Alie-Cox, like Kelly, is listed on the injury report with a knee injury. He missed the last game, sat out Wednesday practice, then had limited snaps on Thursday and Friday.
Rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who is on injured reserve after undergoing leg compartment syndrome surgery after a Week 3 win, returned to practice and made positive progress. But Reich said he and general manager Chris Ballard will review how he played before deciding if he will be activated. Pittman, a second-round draft choice, has nine receptions for 73 yards. He’s also a physical blocker on the outside.
Third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay, who has been on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this season in recovering from a fractured ankle suffered in Week 5 last year, had some positive moments in practice this week. The Colts have three weeks to decide if he will be activated.
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)