Eight years in the league and Rodney McLeod still felt like he did in his first NFL year, back in 2012 with the St. Louis Rams.
“Felt like a rookie all over again, first time out there, the jitters, it’s been some time, but once that first drive happened I settled in and felt good,” said McLeod.
On Thursday, McLeod played in his first game since tearing an ACL in the third week of last season. Most of the preseason games are meaningless, but the exhibition contest with the Baltimore Ravens carried plenty of significance not only for McLeod, but the Eagles as well.
“Very emotional because it’s been so long,” said McLeod. “It’s also weird because it’s a preseason game so it doesn’t necessarily count, but it meant a lot more to me.
“I felt like I had a lot more to prove to the organization, my teammates and myself. Feel confident. I think I did that. It was good to get a few tackles. Get guys yelling and screaming in my face after and congratulating me, so it felt good.”
VIDEO: Rodney McLeod explains how he felt in his preseason debut on Thursday
Losing McLeod to a season-ending injury last year, on Sept. 23 against the Colts, was maybe the greatest injury the team suffered in 2018, even more so than the stress fracture in quarterback Carson Wentz’s back that shut him down in December.
McLeod was the lead communicator in the Eagles secondary, the one who got everybody lined up pre-snap. His replacement, Corey Graham, had hung on a year too long before retiring and wasn’t nearly as effective as McLeod. The Eagles lost three of their next four until things stabilized a bit as Avonte Maddox grew into the role.
“(From) the chemistry standpoint we all played a lot of ball together, especially me and Malcolm (Jenkins) so we know each other very well,” said McLeod. “My experience, that’s kind of hard to replicate. Other skills sets that I have, but I think the guys who came in last year obviously did a good job. We made the playoffs a goal we set out to do in the beginning of the season. It wasn’t pretty but we made it and obviously we came up short.”
McLeod played about a quarter against the Ravens, 14 snaps in all, but he made his presence known plenty, recording three tackles. One of those was when he tracked elusive Baltimore quarterback Trace McSorley down the line of scrimmage as McSorley tried to get outside. McLeod caught him on the edge for a one-yard loss.
“Just to get out there and feel the game, feel the energy, feel that nervousness, that butterfly feeling of getting out there into the game and getting that first hit, that first tackle,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “I thought he moved around well.”
McLeod made team’s first tackle of game, after a short completion when he smothered Marquise Brown.
“All throughout camp I was kind of like, (get) the injury behind me, but obviously there’s that thought in your head and actually being able to tackle someone again in a game, to experience that, feels good,” said McLeod. “Felt right back at home, felt like I haven’t missed a step. It felt good to get that first tackle going and now I can just move on and focus on the rest of the year.”
The rest of the year will include McLeod, barring another injury mishap.
“I don’t think that ever was a question (about being ready for this season),” he said. “When we set out (at the start of) training camp, this was the focus in mind – to get some action in (preseason) game three. I’ll continue to work, continue to build and get ready for the Redskins (in the Sept. 8 season opener).
“It’s been a buildup. It’s been a challenge, honestly, kind of growing each week. Got a little early hit unexpected at camp. This past week, I actually had a lot more contact than I thought I would have; tackling all the way to the ground. This is the first time that I’ve done that since last year. It feels a little weird, but once you make that first tackle it’s like we’re right back at home and it just feels good to be out there.”