Safety Rodney McLeod a Browns coach on the field

Sep. 4—The new league year in the NFL begins with a wave of free agency signings, followed by the draft, followed by signing undrafted rookies, followed by carefully selecting veteran free agents still unsigned.

Rodney McLeod was part of the latter group when the Browns signed him on May 5. He was one of those undrafted rookies in 2012. The St. Louis Rams signed him to a three-year, $1.44 million contract two days after the draft ended. Eleven years later, he is still going strong. He is the poster boy to show other undrafted rookies how hard work can result in a long career.

"Just think about what Rod has done in his career," safeties coach Ephraim Banda said. "That's another undrafted free agent who's been in this league for twelve years, and how his play in every room he's ever been in raised the level of everyone in the room."

Safety Rodney McLeod say the #Browns defense "wants to establish our identity" in the opener with the #Bengals Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) September 4, 2023

McLeod will be an important part of the defense when the Browns open their season Sept. 10 against the Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Bengals are likely to open with three receivers — Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins — which means McLeod could be on the field for the opening snap.

"He has a lot of experience in this scheme, so he kind of came right in and could run it immediately," head coach Kevin Stefanski said after practice Sept. 4. "He has a heady way about how he plays.

"I can't tell you how many times he's calling out routes before they happen just because he's seen a bunch in his career. So I think one of his strong suits is just his ability to diagnose things quickly when looking at the offense."

McLeod played four seasons for the Rams and then became an unrestricted free agent in March 2016. Several teams, including the Browns, tried to sign him. He ended up with the Eagles. His arrival coincided with the arrival of a new defensive coordinator in Philadelphia — Jim Schwartz. Schwartz is in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Browns.

It's the start of #Bengals week for the #Browns.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) September 4, 2023

McLeod and Schwartz were together for five seasons in Philadelphia. McLeod started every game he played in during that span. He intercepted nine passes from 2016-20. His experience in Schwartz' defense makes him a coach on the field for the Browns.

"It's helped tremendously," McLeod said. "Me being in this defense for five years of my career and winning the Super Bowl (2017 season), just having a lot of experience on tape, able to come in and just be an extra set of eyes and able to share my experience and help guys get up to speed a little quicker."

Cornerback Denzel Ward did not practice Sept. 4 because he is still in concussion protocol. Ward was injured Aug. 26 in a preseason game with the Chiefs.

Stefanski has not announced a timetable for Ward's return. McLeod said he expects Ward to be ready for the Bengals.

"We're encouraged that he'll be available for us," McLeod said. "We're allowing Denzel to take the time necessary, doctors to do their job and hoping that he's there when we need him. When he's on the field, he's a weapon for us, somebody who we need come Sunday in order for us to have great success.

"But if he's not, it's next man up. We hold everybody to the same standard and expect the same results."

The Browns top three cornerbacks if Ward doesn't play would be Greg Newsome, Martin Emerson and Kahlef Hailassie or Mike Ford.


When: 1 p.m., Sept. 10

Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium

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