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Darius Leonard presents unique challenges for Jaguars’ offense Sunday

Former teammates in Indy, Najee Goode knows limiting Leonard is a tough ask

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Speed, instincts and a lot of energy. Those were a few ways Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Najee Goode described — arguably — the Indianapolis Colts’ best defender in linebacker Darius Leonard shortly after practice on Thursday. Last year, Goode was on the Colts primarily used as a special teams player, however, was able to get defensive reps every so often. Now a starter of the Jaguars’ defense, he’s looking forward to competing on Sunday.

Both Goode and Leonard spent plenty of time on and off the field as teammates and friends. It didn’t take long before Goode knew just what kind of a player Leonard would be. In week two of the 2018 regular season, the Colts played the Washington Redskins. It was then, Goode says, he knew the then-rookie linebacker out of South Carolina State would be special.

Leonard accounted for 19 combined tackles, one sack, and a tackle for a loss loss in their matchup against Washington. “After the second game,” Goode told Big Cat Country when asked when he knew Leonard would be a special talent in the NFL. “He came out — he had like 18 tackles — he can get to the ball. Long, fast instinctive player.”

The Jaguars are competing against one of the best linebackers in the NFL on Sunday. In just a short time, the speedy, rangy, “maniac” in Indianapolis has feasted on opponents week after week.

Goode was fortunate to get a front-row seat, watching the eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year grow. In just a short amount of time in Indy, their families became very close. “We just talked about ball and we talked about life,” Goode said when asked about their relationship. “His wife and my wife are close, he has a daughter, I got two daughters. We always hung out, that’s my dog, he’s a good dude, down south dude.”

Goode became a mentor for the young linebacker throughout the season. After starting 1-5, the two sat down and discussed a multitude of things such as down-and-distance and anything they thought could help them win games.

“[He] took it to his advantage, he’s a hell of a player.”

Thus far this season, Leonard has accumulated 60 combined tackles — 42 solos—, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, and two interceptions in just six games. Leonard was forced to miss several games due to a concussion he suffered in week two. Now, back at relatively full strength, Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles will throw against one of the best linebackers in the game.

On Wednesday, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone likened Leonard to one of the best linebackers to play the game.

“I go back, he reminds me [of] when I first came into the league and we played Miami. They had a guy named Zach Thomas,” Marrone said on Wednesday during his weekly press conference. Rather than playing Leonard head-on, Marrone feels the team will need one or maybe two players at times to get a handle on him. Changing up the scheme and not allowing the rangy linebacker to take advantage.

“This guy can make every play, every tackle. I mean, east, west, north, south. Passing game, he’s always around the football. So, he’s someone that you have to know where he is and you have to make sure you have at least one, maybe two guys on him. Because he’s going to find a way to make the tackle and be where the ball is and disrupt it.”

Getting a handle on where Leonard is at all times will be a major key to victory for the Jaguars on Sunday.

Although it’s all business this week, there will be a brief period of excitement for Goode. Being able to see his former teammates is something that gets the linebacker fired up, and he has already called Leonard multiple times, “talking crap” earlier this week.

“Definitely gonna put it to him,” Goode said jokingly. “I might hit him and [Colts linebacker] Anthony Walker — dudes on the sideline — when the play gets over there, but yeah definitely.”