The year is 2012 and Rodney McLeod is at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida participating in the East-West Shrine Game.
For McLeod, it was his best shot to impress scouts from all 32 NFL teams in person. Unsure of what scouts would make of him, McLeod figured the best way to do that was by showcasing his versatility. That meant playing cornerback for the first time since his freshman year at the University of Virginia. Beginning with his sophomore season on, he was a safety.
McLeod was giving it his all at cornerback and one coach in particular saw something in him. However, it was not at cornerback.
"Hey man, you're going to play about 10 years at safety," the coach told McLeod, who balked at the idea.
Although McLeod impressed, it wasn't enough for anyone to select him in the ensuing NFL Draft. Despite that, he earned a spot on the then-St. Louis Rams roster, but as a safety, and has played the position ever since. With McLeod entering his ninth season, the coach's words now look prophetic.
That coach was Marquand Manuel, then an assistant special teams coach with the Seattle Seahawks, but now the defensive backs coach for the Eagles, where he will impart the wisdom he gained as an NFL safety and cornerback to McLeod and the rest of the defensive backs.
Eight years after their first encounter, Manuel likes the player that McLeod has become.
"He's been good from the standpoint of the dialogue between all the new guys, having the conversations back and forth," Manuel said of McLeod during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "He's been really good from that standpoint and understanding the nuances of how we do what we do on a daily basis and that's been really huge."
"I've always looked at myself as a leader on this team since I entered here in 2016," McLeod said. "2020 has just asked me to expand my role just a little bit more."
Manuel and McLeod are now part of a secondary that includes a player making his own transition from corner to safety in Jalen Mills, and a host of other talented players headlined by three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay.
"He's everything that we all envisioned him to be," McLeod said of Slay. "He works hard, man. He's probably one of the last guys off the field and on the field, you feel his presence. He's going to make us a better secondary because of it."
With Mills, Slay, and others in tow, McLeod believes the Eagles have the pieces in place to regain the respect he believes it lost in 2019.
"It's coming together a lot better than I think anyone would imagine," he said of the secondary's chemistry during a conference call with the media Wednesday.
"We're taking advantage of not only the reps we get out on the practice field but the walkthroughs and so far, so good," he later added. "I like the way we're jelling, man."
Manuel likes what he has seen from the Eagles' secondary. On Wednesday, he raved about Avonte Maddox's versatility, and Slay and Mills' leadership qualities. But most of all, he loves the unit's competitiveness.
"Most of the time as a coach when you come in, you normally have to wait to see when that would happen, but the leadership and competitive edge has been amazing from the guys that have already been here and the additions," Manuel explained.
Although Manuel is happy with what he has seen from the secondary so far, he also admitted that there is still much to improve. Two players in particular he wants to see more from were cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas.
Manuel has a familiarity with Jones dating back to his time with the Seahawks, where he got to watch what the 2017 second-round pick was capable of during his time at the University of Washington.
When the Eagles first hired Manuel, he had a conversation with Jones about the three things he wanted to see out of the former second-round pick. He wants to see Jones be more accountable, compete daily, and be willing to learn.
"If you consistently do those three things in this league, you can have success," Manuel explained. "Everyone's skill set is different. We all understand that. You guys understand that. I also understand that. However, how can you implement now what you do great?"
"You can't be great at everything, but we can also work at things that we know we can get better at. I practice it until I can't get it wrong," he later said.
With Douglas, Manuel wants to see him be more diligent in his approach to the game and self-evaluate more, the latter Manuel did a lot of while he was out of football last season.
"One of the things about Rasul is he wants to know why," Manuel said. "As a player, you always want to know why and as a coach, I always wanted to make sure that we have the why."
"Consistency in technique, consistency in effort, that's what stands the test of time in this league," he later added. "A ball is going to get caught on you. I haven't seen a guy not get a ball caught on them, but consistently, how can you go battle what techniques are you're using? Can you now understand what do I need to apply, the application?"
Manuel believes Jones and Douglas have what it takes to meet his lofty expectations for them. The same goes for the entire Eagles secondary. Eagles Everywhere hope he is correct, just like he was about McLeod at Tropicana Field in 2012.