Preparations for week one have begun, and when the Eagles take the field Sunday, it will finally be with one of their leaders on defense back in the fold.

Rodney McLeod went down with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 3 of last season on September 23rd, and his injury was largely one of the most impactful. Alongside Malcolm Jenkins in the secondary, McLeod is one of the key players that makes the defense go.

The impacts of McLeod’s absence were immediately felt. In week 4, with Corey Graham seeing a large chunk of playing time in McLeod’s place, the defense suffered an epic collapse against the Tennessee Titans.

The Eagles entered the fourth quarter leading 17-3, and looked to be well on their way to opening the season 3-1. However, the Titans went on to score 17 unanswered points, before an Eagles field goal sent the game to overtime.

The Eagles even led 23-20 in OT, and the Titans had to convert on 4th-and-15 in order to stay alive. And, of course, they did just that.

Marcus Mariota completed a 19-yard pass to Taywan Taylor after blown coverage by Graham, who, once again, was McLeod’s replacement.

The Titans went on to win that game after the Eagles’ defensive debacle, and it was the start of a frustrating year for the group.

Similarly, just three weeks later, the Eagles led the Panthers 17-3 in the fourth quarter, before allowing 18 unanswered points and losing.

In 2018, the Eagles defense allowed 21.8 points per game, which was the 12th-fewest, but also allowed 269.3 passing yards per game, which was the third-most in the league.

For comparison, in 2017, the Eagles defense allowed 18.4 points per game, which was the fourth-fewest, and allowed just 227.3 passing yards per game, ranking 17th.

McLeod wasn’t the teams only loss on defense; most notably, Ronald Darby (torn ACL) and Derek Barnett (torn rotator cuff) were lost for the season as well.

However, McLeod was the one defensive player the team couldn’t sufficiently replace.

The Eagles witnessed the emergence of cornerback’s Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc following Darby’s injury. As for Barnett, the Eagles seamlessly filled the void with Michael Bennett and Chris Long, who combined for 54 tackles and 15.5 sacks in 2018.

For McLeod, the Eagles had to turn to Graham, who’s previous downfalls we’re just bored, and Tre Sullivan, who was cut from the team this preseason.

Without McLeod, the Eagles’ bid for a second-straight Super Bowl appearance ended in the divisional round, when the Saints scored 21 unanswered points to win 21-14.

Now, it’s onto a new season, and it will finally mark the return of McLeod, who’s now entering his fourth season in Philadelphia.

For McLeod, getting back on the field isn’t enough; he’s hoping to follow up what’s been a strong career as an Eagle, with him recording a career-high in tackles in 2016, and a career-high in interceptions in both 2016 and 2017.

McLeod also serves more than Jenkins’ counterpart at the safety position. The presence of McLeod allows the Eagles to be more creative with Jenkins, with McLeod serving as a security blanket over the top in the secondary.

Some may be worried about the overall health of McLeod coming off of a major knee injury, but the effects of that injury are in the past.

It’s been nearly 12 months since McLeod suffered the injury, which means he’s as close to 100% as one can be. McLeod has also been a full participant in practice for a few weeks and was even able to play in week 3 of the preseason, so rust may not be a factor at all.

There’s no telling what the future holds, but for now, McLeod is fully healthy, and that can only mean good things for the Eagles. With McLeod back in the picture, the team can return to its once-dominant form on defense.

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