Indianapolis Colts LB Shaquille Leonard ejected; WRs Michael Pittman, Alex Pierce expected to play

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INDIANAPOLIS – Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard has made “increasing progress” in his return from back surgery but is “not able to play winning football and feel confident,” coach Frank Reich said Friday.

Despite practicing with the Colts the past three weeks, Leonard was ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, prompting questions about the timeline for the three-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Reich elaborated on Leonard’s condition for the first time in weeks, saying the team is making its own assessments of Leonard’s ability to return to action and closely following the player’s guidance.

“It’s a joint decision,” Reich said. “But obviously the player has to play. Only he knows how it feels. So, we look at the tape, and we look at the tape now when we look at the tape last year or the year before, and you see him. Move, we do it. It’s not the same. Look the same.From our point of view, you want the tape to look like it did when you were relatively healthy.

“That’s one side. Then he has to feel the side that comes from Shaq. So, it’s a collaborative space.”

Leonard underwent back surgery in June to address lower-body pain caused by a nerve problem. Although Leonard and Goulds said the procedure solved the problem, recovery from surgery is a long process.

“This wound, it’s a bear,” Reich said. “He’s fighting every second to get back on the field, I promise you that. He’s doing everything he can to get out there. It’s killing him.” The Colts considered placing Leonard on the physically unable to perform list or on injured reserve, but those options would have prevented Leonard from practicing with the team.

“When you don’t take those other steps, we know everybody thinks (he’s playing) Week 1, Week 2,” Reich said. “It was a bit of a gamble that the last step would go faster than planned, but everything is going according to plan. It’s a tough injury, he’s handling it the right way, he’s got the right attitude. I’m going to keep going in this direction.”

Elsewhere, the Colts received positive injury news with the expected return of receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (quad) and Alec Pearce (concussion). Pittman, according to Reich, was “ready to go.” Pierce, Reich said, will clear the concussion protocol and play on Thursday.

Defensive end Yannick Nakako (back) will be listed as questionable.

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