'We Were Disrespected': McLeod Defensive About Eagles Secondary
It’s been over a decade since the Eagles have fielded a secondary that struck fear in opposing offenses. Once a hallmark of Jim Johnson’s vaunted defense, the formidable back end was reputed for hard-nosed play, delivering thunderous hits and timely turnovers.
Rodney McLeod is determined to turn back the hands of time in 2020.
“As a secondary, I felt that we were a little disrespected at times,” McLeod said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Thursday. “And I think now it’s time to live up to that standard, a standard that’s been set by people that played way before us – the Brian Dawkinses of the world, the Troy Vincents, Malcolm [Jenkins]. I think when you think of guys who have put on the jersey before us, we owe them that. "And so we want to get back to the secondary taking over the defense and winning the game and putting the game on our back. And that’s the standard ‘M’ [secondary coach Marquand Manuel] is holding us to, as well as the players in this room.”
Now the elder statesman of an often criticized Philadelphia secondary, McLeod inherits a prominent leadership role vacated by Jenkins' departure in free agency. While the ninth-year pro will accept the responsibilities of navigating the middle of the field and directing traffic in a predominant Cover 3 scheme, those burdens were somewhat mitigated by the offseason acquisition of cornerback Darius Slay.
“It makes my job a lot easier at safety, I’ll tell you that,” McLeod said. “When you have guys of his caliber, who can cover and get up in front of the receiver’s face, throw off timing for the quarterback and allow me to go sideline-to-sideline – I’m excited about what we can do. I think we have a very versatile group, where guys can line up anywhere, whether it’s man or zone coverage.” If this unit is to resemble the secondaries of the Johnson era, however, the newcomers must prove to be quick studies and veterans will be required to elevate their play.
Jalen Mills, converting from cornerback to safety, is likely to assume a Jenkins-like role as a versatile defender who can essentially align anywhere while also coming into the box for run defense. Will Parks, a free-agent addition from the Denver Broncos, will battle with Mills for the strong safety role opposite McLeod. Parks has enticing attributes, but like Mills has limited time to dissect the playbook – at a position where communication is paramount.
Then there’s rookie K’Von Wallace, who drew positive reviews after the draft but must leapfrog one or two veterans before he can get onto the field.
The onus falls on McLeod, entering his fifth-year in Jim Schwartz’ defense, to get this refurbished group up to speed for the season.
The new-look secondary includes Manuel, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons. Manuel primarily ran a Cover 3 concept in Atlanta and is expected to help implement those schemes in Philadelphia. This particular coverage will highlight McLeod as the deep safety, a position crucial to the unit’s overall success.
McLeod has always undertaken a workmanlike approach throughout his Eagles tenure, but it’s fair to wonder if the 30-year-old still has the required range and closing speed at this stage of his career. Still, McLeod remains among the unit’s most steady contributors. His innate football IQ, tenacity, instincts, and newfound chip on his shoulder should position him to establish a new standard under Manuel’s tutelage.