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Rodney McLeod happy to be reunited with 'culture-shifter' DC Jim Schwartz

McLeod has played some of the best football of his 11-year career under Schwartz, whose hire was a big reason why he wanted to come to Cleveland


Rodney McLeod is playing in a new city for the fourth time in his 11-year career, but it probably won't feel much different from when he spent five of those years in Philadelphia.

The reason for that?

Jim Schwartz.

McLeod played under Schwartz from 2016-2020 when they were both with the Eagles, which includes their year as Super Bowl LII champions in 2018.

When McLeod answered a question Tuesday about why he decided to sign with Cleveland back in May, Schwartz's arrival as the new defensive coordinator was one of the first reasons he listed.

"Being with him in Philly, understanding the defense and knowing what type of man he is and coach, that also helped," McLeod said. "So excited to be here, man. It's a great deal of talent. Brings the best out of you each and every day."

Check out the action from practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus as the Browns go through Veteran Minicamp

McLeod had often played his best football under Schwartz, starting in their first season together when McLeod totaled a career-best three interceptions and 83 tackles. He rarely left the field as the starting free safety, and he matched that production in 2017 with another three-pick season even though he was moved to a strong safety role.

That steadiness continued even after McLeod played only three games in 2018 due to an ACL injury. He managed to play another full 16-game season in 2019 and amassed 76 tackles and two interceptions. 

The Eagles' defense was one of the league's best through those seasons. For McLeod, the credit belonged to Schwartz, whose assertive, direct coaching styles built trust among his players.

"His passion, his energy each and every day, holding everybody accountable, demands the most out of you," McLeod said. "He holds everybody to a very high standard, and that's what you need in this business to win. I think he's already established that here, and you could tell he's a culture-shifter."

Even though his career in Cleveland is barely a month old, McLeod has already begun to see how Schwartz has altered the vibe. 

It's easy to see — or rather, hear — the changes from the field.

Players are constantly communicating before and during the play, which is what Schwartz previously said he wanted to see from his preferred coaching spot at the line of scrimmage during seven-on-seven drills.

They're also trash talking — multiple points of Tuesday's minicamp practice were filled with playful smack talk between the defensive and offensive sides. 

"It's just a competitive edge, and that's what you want to see from guys," McLeod said. "It means something to them, and over the course of these OTAs, we've been a little reserved. So guys are just looking forward to actually getting out there, competing versus one another, making each other better."

McLeod has also embraced his role at being able to help his new teammates get better.

As the veteran most familiar with Schwartz's system, McLeod has enjoyed educating others on the defense about the playbook and principles of a Schwartz-led unit. 

It starts with stout defensive line play and attacking the QB, which is perhaps the most important element of the scheme, but it also depends on secondary players holding their roles well, particularly in man coverage.

"Jim stresses that we're going to lean on the defensive line," McLeod said. "We're going to allow them to attack. They're going to set the tempo for the team, and I think we got the right guys up front to do so. So I'm very excited because that makes our job a lot easier in the back end. They're applying pressure, and we take advantage of it."

The one major difference McLeod has needed to adjust to is terminology, and Schwartz has been impressed with how quickly he's learned the new playbook words of the system.

"He could play a game right now," Schwartz said. "You try to change terminology and roll signals over, just so the people you've played before don't have a good grasp, so the first couple days, that sort of threw him for a loop, but veteran players like that who have played the techniques, it comes quickly for those guys."

It's a system that's worked well for McLeod throughout his long career, and he has no doubt it'll help him play at a high level again as he turns 33 years old this month.

He might be in a new home, but he'll need no introduction as to who his defensive coordinator is — both as a coach and as a person.

"I think what I love most about Jim is he's a genuine guy," McLeod said. "He really cares about each player. He invests in us and getting to know us. I think when he does challenge you in those moments, you know it's coming from a good place. He's a talker, he shares a lot of stories, but it's all because he cares. 

"I'm glad to be back with him this year."

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