For nearly a year, all Eagles safety Rodney McLeod wanted to do was tackle somebody. He wasn’t waiting a single snap longer.
McLeod made the wrap-up on the Eagles’ first defensive play of the game against the Ravens on Thursday night, a seven-yard completion. Two series later, he chased scrambling quarterback Trace McSorley down for a one-yard loss on 2nd-and-10 in the red zone, a series that ultimately ended in a field goal.
In all, McLeod finished with three tackles in one quarter of action, but it was enough for the eighth-year veteran to declare himself ready for the Eagles’ regular season opener against Washington.
“I don’t think that ever was a question,” McLeod said postgame. “When we set out for training camp, this was the focus in mind and the goal, to get some action Game 3, and I think everybody said they liked what they saw.
“I’ll continue to build, continue to work and get ready for the Redskins.”
McLeod hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since tearing the MCL in his right knee Week 3 of last season, almost 11 months to the day of his preseason return.
All that time, he’s been thinking about hitting people.
“It’s been a build-up,” McLeod said. “It’s been a challenge, honestly. Been growing each week. Got a little early hit unexpected early on in camp. Then this week I actually had a lot more contact than I thought I would have, and then today obviously tackling all the way to the ground.
“This is the first time I’ve done that since last year, so it feels a little weird, but once you make that first tackle, it’s like, all right, now we’re right back at home.”
Signed as a free agent in 2016, McLeod has 130 tackles, two sacks, 18 pass breakups, six interceptions and two forced fumbles in 46 starts with the Eagles. He was a key cog in the club’s Super Bowl run.
The injury marked McLeod’s first long-term absence as a pro. After the game, the 29-year-old stuck around the locker room for almost the entire media period, opening up to reporters about not only his recovery or first game back, but his feelings missing that time with his teammates.
“It was hard,” said McLeod. “In this game, you want to be there every step of the way. You want to be in the meeting rooms, you want to be out on the field making plays. Those are moments you can’t get back and moments you look back on and you cherish, and for me not being out there it was difficult. Me being a leader on this team, it was hard. You almost feel like you let guys down.
“You miss it so much and it’s hard being away watching the game from the couch. I’m a vocal guy, so I just wanted to be around the team.”
McLeod was wearing a brace on the surgically repaired knee, which he’s not planning on doing all season — though he’ll do whatever it takes to be on the football field on Sundays.
“Whatever’s gonna make me comfortable, whatever’s gonna make me be able to play fast as possible, do my job and make plays, that’s what I’m gonna do,” said McLeod.
The brace didn’t appear to hinder McLeod on Thursday.
“I thought he moved around well,” Doug Pederson said. “Of course, I'll evaluate the film, look at it in the morning and watch him some more closely, but overall felt like he really settled in, did a nice job.”
Pederson said it was good for McLeod to “feel the energy, feel the nervousness” of getting back into a game and making that first tackle, a sentiment the safety shared.
“100 percent,” said McLeod. “It felt like a rookie all over again in a sense just being out for so long and going through an injury like I did.
“You always just question yourself on how it’s going to be and you try to envision a little bit, and I think I envisioned it how it played out today — me making tackles and me flying around like I never left.”
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