With ailing Colts, is long-term availability of Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson a concern?


Indianapolis Colts offensive guard Quenton Nelson (56) sits on the bench against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

INDIANAPOLIS – Two weeks into a season rife with high expectations and suddenly so much hinges on the end-of-the-week participation/injury report.

The prevailing word for the Indianapolis Colts: uncertainty.

The only certainty heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium is right tackle Braden Smith (foot) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (calf) have been ruled out.

After that, haziness.

Veteran left tackle Eric Fisher went through his first full week of practice – he was limited last week – as he continues his comeback from a torn Achilles.

“Eric’s had a solid week,’’ coach Frank Reich said following Friday’s practice. “Not ready to 100% commit. We’ll let it play out in the next 48 hours.’’

There will be discussions with general manager Chris Ballard and the medical staff before Fisher gets the thumb’s up – or told his wait will continue another week – and either Julién Davenport or Matt Pryor moves to right tackle to replace Smith.

Fisher’s status, though, seemed to take a backseat to the situations surrounding two of the Colts’ cornerstone players: All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard.

Each returned to practice Friday. Nelson missed the first two days with a lingering back injury and Leonard was out Wednesday with an ankle issue and Thursday with the ankle and an illness.

The short-term availability of each doesn’t appear to be an issue. It’s the long-term that bears watching.

Leonard’s ankle issue is with the one that required offseason surgery. The procedure was done at that time with the idea it wouldn’t be a problem during the season.

But now apparently it is.

How was he feeling Friday?

“About as good as I’m going to be,’’ Leonard said, adding he’s not 100% and deals with pain when he plays. “It is what it is. I’m just going to go out there and continue to do what I can do until I get to the point where I feel like I can’t, and I go in another direction.’’

That’s hardly encouraging.

Does he envision the ankle deteriorating to the point he’ll miss games?

He shrugged.

“You just play until you can’t,’’ he said. “You don’t think about down the road. You live in the day.

“Once you get caught up in living forward, that’s when you get in trouble. Live in the moment and control what you can control and that’s playing each snap as hard as you can and just go from there.’’

Nelson, meanwhile, is dealing with a back injury that has bothered him in the past. It forced him to miss one practice last week and be a limited participant in another heading into the opener against Seattle.

The back injury follows Aug. 3 surgery on his right foot that forced him to miss three weeks of training camp. He also had a pair of unspecified procedures during the offseason.

“I hate missing practice,’’ said Nelson. “It sucks watching everyone out there grinding and you’re just on the frickin’ sideline watching. It truly kills me.

“I don’t think there’s a better thing to prepare you for the game than practice. That’s why I take practice very seriously. But I’m doing everything I can to prepare. It’s unfortunate that I can’t practice.’’

The prevailing concern, though, should be whether the back injury bothers Nelson all season.

He admitted it can be difficult to adequately treat a back injury once the season begins, but believes it can be done. Surgery, Nelson said, isn’t an option.

“I think it’s something that can get better,’’ he said.

Nelson said his back was in great shape when he reported to training camp – “I had it frickin’ great,’’ he said – and during his rehab from the foot surgery.

“Then there was just one incident that I can’t really talk about too much that triggered it and it came back,’’ he said. “I’ve got it better before so I can definitely get it better again. I would say during the season it’s definitely harder to do.’’

Nelson will rely on daily treatment, exercises and stretches to address his balky back.

“I’m happy with the game plan that I have going forward on it,’’ he said. “I’m hoping to be back at practice in the future and having it not be a problem.’’

Nelson being as close to 100% as possible is especially important this week with the Rams in town. Their defense is led by tackle Aaron Donald, who’s been named Defensive Player of the Year in three of the past four seasons.

Nelson admitted “matchups like these’’ are what you prepare for during the offseason.

“A lot of respect,’’ he said of Donald. “I’d say, ‘What doesn’t he do?’. He does it all. His move repertoire is insane. He can beat you at so many different things.’’

This week and this matchup aside, Reich and the coaching staff will be cautious with their three-time first-team All-Pro left guard.

“He was full (practice) today and we’ll see how he responds,’’ he said. “You know how those back things are. I don’t take those things for granted. We’re going to have to let that play out.’’

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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