In all the months the Eagles players were on the field, through the spring at the NovaCare Complex without pads and into the summer as Training Camp, the joint practices with New England and the Jets, and then three preseason games came and went, safety Rodney McLeod and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson paid attention to detail. They observed from the sidelines, taking visual and mental reps. They were diligent in the meeting rooms. They connected with teammates and a new coaching staff.
And then they went after it in the athletic training room, rehabbing knee injuries from their respective 2020 seasons – McLeod with the Eagles and Dickerson at the University of Alabama – with the hopes of being cleared as soon as possible to play football again.
On Monday, both McLeod and Dickerson took part in practice for the first time all summer – Dickerson working with the offensive line doing individual drills and McLeod doing the same in the defensive backfield.
The excitement level couldn't have been higher.
"God is good," McLeod said when he met the media on Monday. "The fact that I was able to get out there today was a blessing. Credit to the trainers. Long hours, long days, so it felt good for the first day. It was the first step. Just taking it one day at a time and monitoring my progression. I am feeling good. It was great to get out there and get some reps and do some drill work with my teammates."
"It felt great to be back out on the field. I know I had been on the sideline watching, but it's a tremendous feeling being able to be a part of the team again. Get back out there, be with my guys, be with my teammates," said Dickerson, a second-round draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. "I trusted the process with the staff here – the athletic training, the team doctors, all that stuff, and it's really just been whenever I've felt comfortable and they've felt comfortable with me getting back out on the field."
McLeod suffered a torn ACL in last December's win over New Orleans at Lincoln Financial Field and instead of feeling the weight of rehabilitation, he's thrown himself into the work with gusto and energy. On Monday, McLeod didn't specify a timetable for his full return. The Eagles are fewer than two weeks away from the opener. McLeod has been taking all of his mental reps and studying his playbook, of course. But the only way to know that he is "all the way back" is to actually go out and make plays in a game as part of a reconfigured secondary that includes new safety Anthony Harris and new cornerback Steven Nelson.
When the time is right, McLeod wants to fit right in and play ball the way he knows how to play ball.
"For me, it's getting my feet back under me, focusing on my angles, tackling, so a lot of things I still have to do to make sure that I put myself in the best position possible for when my number is called to get back out there come game time," McLeod said. "I think it just comes down to when you make those plays that you're accustomed to making. Naturally, the confidence comes with that. So, I think once those things happen, that reassurance that what I'm feeling and how I'm playing aligns with one another, then I'll feel fine. I'm anxious to get back into competitive periods and we'll just see when that time comes."
Dickerson worked at the center position during the portion of practice open to the media, but there has been no word from the coaching staff on the plans for where Dickerson might play when it is time for him to compete for playing reps. Dickerson is open to whatever the coaches have in mind, but he's really just been focused on the "1-percent better" mantra that head coach Nick Sirianni has stressed from the moment he arrived.
The Eagles have a veteran offensive line that, when healthy, should be among the best in the NFL. The team started 14 different combinations in an injury-riddled 2020 season, and through that some young players were able to gain valuable experience. With Lane Johnson back at right tackle and Brandon Brooks at right guard, the Eagles have a Pro Bowl combination on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Jason Kelce is an All-Pro center, Isaac Seumalo is a strong player at left guard and Jordan Mailata, one of the most improved Eagles in the span of the last 12 months, and 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard provide talented options at left tackle, a position where no starter has been established.
The word on Dickerson, though, is promising. Kelce provided a scouting report on Dickerson on Monday.
"He's got some very good tools," Kelce said. "Obviously, he's picked that high for a reason. Very strong kid, very powerful kid and a good athlete and he's also really smart. All of those things usually translate into a pretty good offensive lineman. I think he can do whatever the team needs him to do regardless of whatever position he's at. He's got enough of everything that he can do it all. He's going to be really good in the power schemes, he's going to be really good in the zone schemes."
Monday's practice was a light one as the players got the blood flowing again after two days off on the weekend. But it was a good day as two players with a lot of upside for the present and the future – McLeod and Dickerson – joined their teammates on the practice field and did something they love to do and missed so much not having the chance to do it for so many months in the past.