Rodney McLeod didn’t play football for 50 weeks. It looks like he didn’t miss a day.
McLeod has been one of the Eagles’ few consistent and productive defensive players the first month of the season, and his performance has come following a long injury layoff and seemingly endless rehab.
Honestly, watching him play right now, you wouldn’t believe he tore his ACL last September.
“He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play,” safeties coach Tim Hauck said.
It was Sept. 23 last year when McLeod crumpled to the ground clutching his right knee during a game against the Colts at the Linc.
He had surgery and then embarked on a 10-month rehab that got him to the season opener against the Redskins looking awfully close to 100 percent.
“The Redskins game, it was emotional,” McLeod said. “Definitely shed some tears during the national anthem, reflecting on everything I went through, what it took to get back to this point in time. It was emotional. Every game is emotional for me because I know what it took to get here and I don’t take it for granted.”
McLeod has been one of the Eagles’ most underrated players since he signed here in 2016.
The Eagles don’t win the Super Bowl without his two touchdown-saving open-field tackles on Rob Gronkowski.
But it was fair to wonder if the Eagles would be getting the same Rodney McLeod after the injury as they had before.
Four games in, the answer is a resounding yes.
“He’s been as active as he’s been since he’s been with us,” said Hauck, who spent three of his 12 NFL seasons with the Eagles. “He’s had a great mindset since the injury that he’s going to come back full speed and I’d have to say he’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play. I’ve been very impressed. I give Rodney a lot of credit for the work he put in in the offseason. … When we got to training camp, he kind of took off like he never missed a beat.”
This is a big year for McLeod.
He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and turning 30 this spring, this could very well be his final significant NFL contract.
So far, so good.
“I think I’ve been playing good consistent ball, that’s one thing I will say,” McLeod said Wednesday. “Still, I have high standards for myself. Would love to have a few tackles back of course and was hoping to have an interception up to this point, but you’ve got to just stay persistent. The biggest thing is consistency, just locking in paying attention to the details, making sure my technique’s on point. But I’m feeling good out there. There’s a lot of hard work that gets into that and getting ready and preparing for Sunday. There’s a lot of maintenance work and you’ve got to credit a lot of the things that I’m doing throughout the week getting ready for Sunday."
The Eagles’ defense has been plagued by inconsistency, but the two veteran safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and McLeod, have been the most consistent guys on the field.
Especially with the revolving door at cornerback, the Eagles have needed those guys to hold it down, and they have.
“I give him a lot of credit, because he works hard off the field and studies a lot of tape so when he gets out there it’s just natural for him to be in the right place at the right time,” Hauck said. “There’s no doubt about it, he is the overlooked guy on our defense. He is a vital piece in everything we do.”
McLeod has 16 tackles, two pass knockdowns and a quarterback hurry, but the stats don’t speak to just how consistently he’s played and how many key stops he's made on third down.
“I’m sure to everyone else’s eye it looks like I’m 100 percent,” McLeod said. “But honestly, there’s still a lot to work on.”
With the defensive ends underachieving, the linebackers not generating big plays, the cornerbacks injured and struggling, the defensive tackles either hurt or still making their way back from injuries, McLeod and his long-time partner Jenkins have been beacons of consistency.
They’ve helped hold the whole thing together when at times it looked like it might fall apart.