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‘Maniac' Has Message for Aaron Rodgers

Always looking for motivation, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard didn’t like hearing that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers complimented Fred Warner as the NFL’s best linebacker.

INDIANAPOLIS — Not that any added motivation should be needed, but Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard looks forward to facing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Perhaps after Sunday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium (4:25 p.m., FOX-59 TV), Rodgers will compliment Leonard like the two-time NFL MVP passer did when he told San Francisco’s Fred Warner that the 49ers defender was the best linebacker in the NFL.

Those words didn’t sit well with “The Maniac,” inspiring leader and intense playmaker on the Colts’ No. 1-ranked defense. So, yeah, Leonard has anticipated this opportunity to get acquainted with one of the best quarterbacks to play the game when the Colts (6-3) host the Packers (7-2).

Before the question about Rodgers’ compliment to Warner could be completed on a Thursday Zoom video call, Leonard was already nodding his head to acknowledge he had heard about it.

“Yeah, I seen it as soon as he said it,” Leonard said. “You hear things like that, and it just gives you that extra motivation to go out and play. I’ve been looking forward to this game ever since he said it. He’s been in the league for a long time. For him to say that to Fred Warner … my first time, I want to leave a mark, hopefully change his mind of what he said about that.”

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard reacts on the sideline during a Week 10 road win at Tennessee.

Darius Leonard considers himself the NFL's best linebacker.

Rodgers, 36 and in his 16th season, hasn’t faced Leonard, 25, who in 35 career games has amassed 301 total tackles, 13 sacks, seven interceptions including one returned for touchdown, seven forced fumbles, 17 passes defended, and been named All-Pro in each of his first two years.

Warner, selected one round later than Leonard in the third in 2018, has 290 total tackles despite playing six more career games, three sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, 18 passes defended, without a Pro Bowl or All-Pro honor.

One “dis” led to another. Leonard didn’t hesitate to say that Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is a tougher quarterback to play against. Jackson and the Ravens defeated the Colts 24-10 in Week 9, but Leonard had his best 2020 game with 15 total tackles, including 13 solos. Jackson didn’t dominate, and was bottled up for a half, but the Colts defense was on the field for 20 minutes in the second half because the offense failed to score a point or move the ball until late.

Aaron Rodgers celebrates a Green Bay Packers touchdown.

Aaron Rodgers celebrates a touchdown at Lambeau Field.

Asked if Rodgers is the toughest quarterback test, Leonard chuckled and said, “No,” and shook his head.

“Lamar Jackson, he’s a different cat. Lamar, he can beat you running the ball. When you have a quarterback running the ball, it adds another running lane. That hurts you defensively. That’s why Lamar has played so well. And with Lamar, he can throw the ball, too.

“I feel like with Aaron Rodgers, as long as we keep him in the well and make sure he can’t leave the pocket, that’s when we have a better chance of winning. So I just think Lamar Jackson is better, not better, but he’s one of the worst threats that I’ve played as a quarterback.”

Just words? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Leonard likes to use anything that could be perceived as a slight, snub, or an insult to provide incentive. Who’s to say Rodgers — a Super Bowl winner, two-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowl honoree — won’t raise an eyebrow if advised that the leader of the Colts defense thinks a less-established player like Jackson is a greater threat.

Leonard added that he does respect Rodgers and considers the quarterback “definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s just that the linebacker has learned to respect great players, but not fear them.

Perhaps both will come away from Sunday with more respect for the other.