‘It’s all about preparation’: Darius Leonard on Colts’ taking next step

Sports

Darius Leonard #53 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after the Colts stopped the Carolina Panthers on fourth down at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner would have fit right in with their predecessors of the 2000s.

They would have been welcomed into a locker room that included Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Tarik Glenn, Jeff Saturday and so many others.

Cut from the same unique cloth.

Leonard and Buckner are two of the unquestioned leaders – and best players – for the latest collection of Colts. They’re driven, never satisfied. They absolutely abhor losing.

“That’s something you get tired of,’’ Leonard said last month after the Colts were bounced from the playoffs by the Buffalo Bills. “It sucks.’’

Buckner described last season, his first in Indy, as a “bust’’ even though the team finished 11-5 and he was named first-team All-Pro for the first time.

“For me, the ultimate goal’s the Super Bowl,’’ he said. “It’s Super Bowl or bust for me.

“It was a bust. I’ve got to go back into the lab.’’

And there it is.

Leonard and Buckner, along with so many of their teammates, won’t allow the disappointment of the Bills loss to linger or define them. They’ll use it as motivation moving forward.

After taking a little time to decompress and allow their bodies to heal from the rigors of last season, they’ll prepare for what’s to come.

Anyone who spent time around the Colts of the 2000s quickly realized the product everyone saw on game day was a result of strenuous work in the offseason and during practice.

Manning was fond of sharing a discussion he had with Harrison. The team, Harrison insisted, paid him to practice. He played the games for free.

“Watching Marvin Harrison practice,’’ Manning said, “it just doesn’t get any better than that.’’

James and Wayne routinely worked out early in the morning during the offseason . . . early, as in the 5 or 6 o’clock range. The objective was to outwork everyone else.

“It was something that I could tell was a special group in those early years,’’ Manning said. “It was a bunch of guys that loved football, that loved to work hard.

“When your best players are also your best practicers, hardest workers and also guys who are unselfish, you’re going to have a chance to be pretty special.’’

Leonard has accomplished a lot in three seasons. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 and is a two-time first-team All-Pro and a second-team selection once. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and owner of a fat stat line: 416 tackles, including 26 for a loss, 15 sacks, seven interceptions and nine forced fumbles.

Yet he remains driven.

Leonard realizes the groundwork for success in September and beyond is put in place long before that.

“I can tell you one thing: this offseason you’ve got to work like there’s no tomorrow,’’ he said. “You’ve got to work like this is your last year. You’ve got to work like everybody’s doubting you. You’ve got to wake up before everybody. You’ve got to grind when everybody’s sleeping. Then whenever you work out with people, you outwork them, day-in and day-out.’’

Leonard takes preparation to the extreme, similar to the Colts of the 2000s.

“I tell everybody about the 12 ‘Ps’,’’ he said. “Piss poor preparation promotes piss poor performance, piss poor performance promotes pain.

“You’ve gotta have preparation over everything.’’

Buckner agreed. The offseason, he emphasized, is no time to relax.

“We have to go into the offseason for everyone that is going to be here and we need to work on our craft,’’ he said. “We’ve gotta go back into the lab and get your body’s right and we’ve just got to grind.’’

That’s a mentality so critical to establishing an environment of success. It doesn’t guarantee it, but can be the catalyst.

And remember, we’re talking about two of the Colts’ better players who have yet to hit their prime. Leonard is 25. Buckner turns 27 in March.

Manning’s commitment to preparation is legendary, and one of the many reasons he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021.

Tony Dungy smiled when he considered the level to which Manning took that preparation. The indelible example occurred during the 2007 offseason after the Colts selected Ohio State wideout Anthony Gonzalez with the 32nd overall pick in the draft.

Gonzalez participated in a post-draft minicamp, but wasn’t allowed to attend subsequent offseason work until his class at Ohio State graduated. Manning knew the missed time would impact the progress of the rookie and the entire offense.

“Without asking me – without asking Tom (Moore) or anybody – two days a week he drives from Indianapolis to Columbus, takes the playbook with him, goes over the playbook for an hour with Anthony, throws for an hour and drives back,’’ Dungy said. “Eight hours twice a week without asking anybody, without anybody telling him he needed to do that.

“He does that twice a week during the spring to get Anthony Gonzalez ready for camp. That’s Peyton Manning.’’

That’s going above and beyond in the offseason.

That was important then, and now.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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