Leonard said he’s been looking forward to facing Rodgers ever since he found out that the Green Bay quarterback called San Francisco’s Fred Warner the best linebacker in the NFL after the two teams played in Week 9 this season.
“I seen it as soon as he said it,” Leonard said Thursday. “You hear things like that and it gives you extra motivation going to play. [Rodgers has] been in the league for a long time. For him to say that about Fred Warner, they play sometimes twice a year, so my first time I want to leave a mark. Hopefully change his mind on what he said about that.”
Finding the littlest thing to motivate himself is nothing new for Leonard. He used the tactic while playing at South Carolina State, an FCS school. He used it when an article referred to him as the worst pick in the 2018 draft after the Colts selected him in the second round.
And now Leonard is using it again.
“Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback,” he said. “That’s a bucket list check. Once you’re in the league, you want to play against the best, and he’s one of the best to do it. I’m pumped for it. It’s definitely challenging. They have some great skill guys.”
Based on the stats, the Colts linebacker has a reason to be somewhat offended by Rodgers’ remarks to Warner after the game.
Leonard has 23 more tackles, 10 more sacks, four more forced fumbles and four more interceptions in his career than Warner, who also entered the NFL in 2018, while playing seven fewer games than the 49ers linebacker.
“Everybody makes tackles; everybody can do that,” said Leonard, who led the NFL in tackles as a rookie. “The motivation of a great ballplayer is how well can you change the game. That’s what I think I have on a lot of linebackers. I’m a game-changer. Somehow I get the ball in my hands or I take the ball out of their hands. That’s what makes you a great linebacker, not just making tackles.”
The Colts (6-3) have faced some talented quarterbacks this season, but the league’s No. 1-ranked defense will have its hands full against the Packers (7-2), who are sixth in the league in total offense.
“I think their offense is — as great as Rodgers is — like any offense, they are most dangerous when they are dual threat, when they have their running game going,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “When they’re really rolling on offense, they run the football and then Rodgers feeds off of that. This is definitely the toughest test for our defense all year.”
Does Leonard plan to say anything to Rodgers on Sunday?
“Whatever comes out, comes out,” Leonard said. “My passion, it shows. Whenever I’m playing, my emotions, it all overflows. I don’t know if I’m going to say something to him or if I’m going to just play. I just know I’m looking forward to the matchup.”