The work isn't over for safety Rodney McLeod. While most of his teammates are scattered about the country and the world, McLeod has to "fine tune" the knee that buckled on him in Week 3 of the 2018 regular season. The goal, McLeod said late last week as the Eagles finished their mandatory minicamp, is to get on the field when Training Camp begins. There is no timetable, just a goal. McLeod is itching to play football.
"Oh man, I can taste it," McLeod said. "I feel like it's so close and I'm excited about that. It's been a long, long road and a lot of hard work. I know I can't let up now. It's the stretch run."
McLeod, a key figure in the defense since signing as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2016 season, suffered his knee injury midway through the September 23 victory over the Indianapolis Colts after starting all 33 of the regular-season games in which he played as an Eagle. McLeod's ability to team with Malcolm Jenkins, plus his versatile skills in coverage and in run support, were difficult to replace.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rejiggered the scheme, moved pieces around and made do, and the defense hung in as the team turned it around down the stretch and made the playoffs. Everyone acknowledges, though, that the Eagles are a better defense with McLeod on the field.
"It's hard to be out, watching your guys playing and you can't really do anything to help," McLeod said. "I did what I could in meetings and talking to the guys, but it was tough not being on the field. I wanted to help and be a part of things, but that wasn't happening. It can weigh on you. You feel like you're letting the team down. It's my job to be out there playing football and I couldn't do that, and it was tough in every way.
"At the same time, I had to get myself right physically. I had work to do."
McLeod more than put in his time in the rehab room, and while he wasn't able to partake in the team drills during the minicamp, he looks great and has renewed energy for the game of football. Not that he was ever lacking – McLeod is dedicated to the game and loves every aspect of the profession – but having the game taken away from him since September has been agonizing.
It's all paid off. McLeod has a great sense of appreciation for being an Eagle.
"I love everything that we've done here in the offseason and, you know, I just want to be out there doing what I love to do and that's play the game of football," he said. "It's been a long time without the competition. That's the thing, I miss the competition. I miss competing with my teammates, my guys. I just have to be patient, keep working hard, and being diligent and when I'm cleared to get out there and play, I'm going to attack it. I'm going to be ready. I don't really have time to take a vacation. This isn't a long time off for me. For me, Training Camp is right around the corner and I am doing everything I can do to be ready."
A healthy McLeod makes a big difference for the Eagles in the defense, who have fortified that side of the ball in the offseason by adding tackle Malik Jackson, ends Vinny Curry and Shareef Miller along with linebackers L.J. Fort and Zach Brown. McLeod returns to a safety room that brought in veterans Andrew Sendejo and Blake Countess to add depth and competition.
It all added up to a promising start in the spring for the defense. Should McLeod come back as he plans, the defense will take another full jump.
"I'm excited to get back in there and hopefully it won't take any time to knock off any rust. I just want to get back on the field and in this defense with my guys," he said. "Whenever that happens, it happens. I know that my goal is to be there on Day 1 of camp. That's what I'm working towards."