Motivated by Pro Bowl snub, Colts’ Darius Leonard says 40 tackles isn’t impossible

Darius Leonard #53 of the Indianapolis Colts warms up on the field prior to the start of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on December 02, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The target is – brace yourself – 40. For-ty.

And let’s not kid ourselves, there won’t be a lack of motivation as Darius Leonard chases Saquon Barkley, Eli Manning and every other New York Giants ball carrier Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

That motivation arrived Tuesday evening when Leonard, the Indianapolis Colts’ tackle-hungry, playmaking, chip-on-his-shoulder rookie linebacker, learned he hadn’t done enough to merit a spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster.

“I was just kind of shocked at first,’’ he said Wednesday, “but kind of just added more fuel to the fire.’’

His cell phone blew up with calls, texts.

“Just everybody,’’ Leonard said. “Nothing new for me. I’ve been overlooked my whole life. It is what it is.’’

And that brings us to 40.

That’s the number of tackles a clearly miffed Leonard told teammate and first-time Pro Bowl selection Eric Ebron he was targeting against the Giants.

“I told him it’s humanly impossible,’’ Ebron shared, “but he doesn’t care.’’

Not one bit.

“Ain’t no can’t,’’ Leonard said, his gaze hardened.

The recognized NFL record of 24 is shared by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and the New York Jets’ David Harris. The Colts’ record from our research is 20, shared by four players, the last being Pat Angerer in 2011. Leonard challenged the mark in week 2 at Washington with 19 and had 17 against Buffalo.

So, 40?

“That’s the goal,’’ Leonard said with a smile.

That’s impossible.

“Impossible? There is nothing impossible,’’ Leonard said. “If you play a lot of snaps you’ve just got to get in on every play possible.’’

The talk of 40 – Forty! – was more hype and driven by Leonard’s initial disappointment. Asked where his anger ranked on a scale of 1-to-10, Leonard didn’t wait for the question to be finished.

“Twenty. Yeah, 20,’’ Leonard said. “It’s up there. Just knowing that I put everything on film and (it’s) still not enough.

“If it’s not enough, I’ve got to keep doing more work. Looking forward to it. Just go out and putting more on my resume, just trying to ball from there.’’

The Colts’ second-round draft pick is used to being snubbed, overlooked, underrated, dissed.

When his test scores out of Lake View H.S. in South Carolina were late arriving in the recruiting process, only South Carolina State kept its scholarship commitment on the table. His motivation was most evident in a 2016 game against Clemson: 19 tackles.

Despite piling up 394 tackles, 53 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks in 43 games, Leonard was considered something of a “reach’’ when the Colts snatched him with the 36th overall pick in the April draft. He was the fifth linebacker selected.

Leonard has used that “overlooked’’ mindset to fashion one of the most prolific defensive seasons by a Colt, rookie or otherwise: 146 tackles, which are 22 more than anyone else in the NFL; 7 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 1 interception and so much more.

The 146 tackles, by the way, are tied for the fifth-most in team history and have Leonard within reach of Jeff Herrod’s all-time record of 160 set in 1991.

Frank Reich admitted he was surprised when Leonard didn’t join Ebron and rookie guard Quenton Nelson as Colts’ Pro Bowl representatives.

“But I’m biased,’’ he said. “Guys like Darius and Andrew (Luck), feel like they’re playing as good as anybody at their position.’’

Leonard, he added, has mastered using the “snub’’ angle to enhance his game.

“He’s that kind of player,’’ Reich said. “He has that kind of makeup. That’s one of the things that makes him a great player, that’s forged that in him to be the leader . . . playing with that chip on your shoulder.

“Whatever he’s done to become the player he has, that’s been part of his story and he’s played it well.’’

That in mind, Leonard’s tackle target for the Giants isn’t actually 40. Nor is it 20.

“Nah, it’s up there,’’ he said. “I want to go out there and just make every single tackle. That’s every week.

“I set a 25 goal for me every week. I want to set a crazy goal for me to reach. Each week, just if it’s less than 25 I’m upset with myself.’’

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