Rodney McLeod’s season had been over for months when he walked through the tunnel of Soldier Field last January holding a ski mask that had become synonymous with the Eagles’ late-season takeaways and swagger.
Before the Eagles’ 16-15 Wild Card win over the Bears, McLeod broke down the huddle of his defensive back teammates, telling them, “I need that dog outta you!”
Without Jalen Mills around to be the secondary’s hype man, McLeod had poured himself into that role while injured. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was quite good at it.
That speech was great. It was fiery. He saw the Eagles needed that role filled and stepped up. But that’s not really Rodney McLeod.
“Everybody has a role,” cornerback Rasul Douglas explained. “That’s not his role. We don’t look at Rod and tell him to be rah-rah. That’s not him. We got [Jalen Mills] for that. We got [Malcolm Jenkins] for that. Rod is just an assassin. He just does the work that is not out in the public eye, he keeps everyone together, keeps everyone on one page and communicates with the whole defense. That’s Rod’s job.”
Now that his surgically repaired right ACL is healed, McLeod played in last Thursday’s preseason game and should be ready for Week 1. He has also returned to his normal role within his group.
The 29-year-old safety has taken back his post as the calming force of the Eagles’ defense.
On Monday, as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was saying how great it was to get McLeod back, he mentioned that McLeod is a calming influence on the defense and it caught my ear.
So I asked him what he meant by that.
Some guys are like super rah-rah guys, like getting guys jacked up,” Schwartz said. “He's one of those guys that everybody just knows it's going to be OK when he's in there. I think there's an important part of that, too. He's stone-cold with his communication. He's always in the right spot, do his job. I mean, those guys are valuable.
Not everybody has to be, you know, rah-rah. Sometimes it's a combination of that — and not that Rodney doesn't play with a lot of fire, he does, but I think when he's back there, his corners, his nickels, his linebackers, they all get a nice sense of calm because he's such a good communicator. He keeps them ahead of problems on the defense and puts everybody in good position.
As Jenkins explained, communication is extremely important in the Eagles’ defense and that often falls on the safeties and linebackers. Jenkins and McLeod are both veterans, leaders in their own ways and excellent communicators.
The loss of McLeod early last season shouldn’t be overlooked. They clearly missed him. And getting him to agree to a restructure in January to be able to bring him back for the 2019 season was huge too. While the Eagles have a couple of other veterans in the safety group, McLeod is the one best suited to play that centerfielder role that allows the Eagles to utilize Jenkins’ versatility.
“You don’t have any worries back there at all,” Jenkins said. “Everybody is completely confident in his ability to have range out of the post, tackle well in space and also to make checks and calls so that’s not all on me either. It definitely lightens my load a little bit.”
So while you’d expect McLeod’s presence to calm his younger teammates — and it does — it also calms the Pro Bowl safety who shares the field with him.
Everyone just breathes a little easier when McLeod is suited up.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.