“I can only control what I can control,” McLeod said. “Those guys up in the office, they do a great job of drafting guys. Whatever happens happens. All I can do is come out here and compete each and every day and give it my all.”
That attitude has helped McLeod early in his first NFL career as he’s worked his way from undrafted rookie free agent from the University of Virginia
playing on special teams to an NFL starter in his second season.
So he’s not going to sweat fourth-round pick Maurice Alexander
or seventh rounder Christian Bryant
coming after his safety spot. He’s just going continue to focus on what he can control and just try to get better each and every day.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher
noted McLeod’s improvement last week.
“From midseason on last year right through the final game and throughout the offseason and camp, (he’s shown) nothing but improvement,’’ Fisher said. “He gets it, he feels good. He’s got a great feel for the defense. He and T.J. (McDonald) are really doing a good job communicating together, getting people lined up. The (safety) positions are interchangeable, so there’s flexibility there and then of course, you can’t say enough about the special-teams contribution. He’s going to start at free safety, going to play on a couple of (special) teams and be productive for us.’’
The 24 year old is trying to be one of the leaders in the secondary.
It’s a young group led by three players — McLeod and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins
and Trumaine Johnson
— who are entering their third seasons in the league and another, T.J. McDonald
, in his second.
“I took the approach that I have to be the leader, as well as Janoris and Trumaine and T.J.,” McLeod said. “We’re the guys who have game experience and have been around the longest. How we take the practice field, how we take the first rep, clearly sets the tone for practice.”
The secondary was one of their weaknesses last season, when St. Louis allowed 68.1 completion percentage and 8.06 pass yards per attempt. Both of those marks were the worst in the NFL.
If the Rams, who went 7-9 a year ago, are going to reverse their record and turn in their first winning season in more than a decade, the defensive backs will have to be better than they were in 2013.
That’s the challenge and that’s been a focus for new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams
“I think he’s challenged the whole defense, from the front seven to us in the back end,” McLeod said of Williams. “Our job is definitely different than theirs and we have to take it like that. In this league people score the ball easily when you throw is versus when you run it. Our job in the back end is to defend. We have a great front seven, so if they get there, pass rush and defensive backs, they go hand in hand.”
McLeod likes the new, more aggressive scheme from Williams.
“I’m also like the quarterback, me and the mike (middle linebacker),” he said. “I have to make a lot of adjustments back there and he gives me the freedom to do different things. As a safety in this defense you have to like it. I feel like everybody, though. It’s an attacking defense, so I expect a lot of great things to happen this year for us.”
McLeod said he has better chemistry with McDonald, the Rams’ strong safety, in their second season together.
In general, the added experience of having two seasons in the NFL is paying off for McLeod in his third training camp in St. Louis.
“I’ve seen a lot, experienced a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was where I needed to be the first four or five games last season but towards the latter part of the season I’ve definitely seen a different player in myself and going into this season. I’ve just been trying to take a role of being a leader back there and trying to do whatever it takes to make sure we get to the playoffs.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
ST. LOUIS — The Rams drafted four defensive backs, including two safeties, this spring. But Rodney McLeod, the team’s starting free safety, isn’t going to worry too much about all of that.