Turning Heads, Making Plays
By Jeff Walcoff
This report filed July 11, 2004
When Cleveland Browns coaches and scouts compiled their annual want-list of rookie free agents in 2003, one number stuck out among the pool of defensive backs.
No, it was not simply the number Leigh Bodden would wear four months later after making the Browns roster. Twenty-eight was the number of interceptions he snagged in four years at Division I-AA Duquesne, just two picks shy of the I-AA all-time record.
Lots of other numbers attached to Bodden’s name were impressive as well, such as 2 (the number of times Bodden was named a consensus All-American), 4 (the number of conference championships won by Duquesne in as many years while Bodden played for the team), 37-8 (the team’s record over those four seasons) and 3.4 (the astonishing number of points per game the Duquesne defense allowed in conference play during Bodden’s senior season).
Or how about 23 (the number of feet Bodden jumped to become Duquesne’s first men’s outdoor track conference champion)?
It became clear very quickly that racking up impressive numbers was something Bodden would be able to do on a level higher than I-AA football.
Just about anyone who has seen a Browns practice in the past year also probably saw a big play from Leigh Bodden. That includes his fellow teammates.
“He was making plays,” Browns receiver Quincy Morgan said of his first impressions of Bodden during 2003 training camp. “He was jumping in front of passes, picking them off and jamming guys. He was a strong, physical player and had a nose for the ball.”
The phrase “making plays” is one that has repeatedly been associated with Bodden since his arrival in Cleveland. His explosive style made a particular impression on his fellow defensive backs.
“Besides being willing to learn and look up to guys, (what makes Bodden special) is that he goes out there and makes plays,” Browns safety Earl Little said. “He’s real smooth with it. It doesn’t look like he’s giving great effort, but he is. The motion of his body looks real fluent.”
Hailing from one of the lesser-known collegiate programs of any member of the team’s 2003 rookie class, receiving praise from team veterans was something for which Bodden was unprepared but gracious to receive.
“It made me feel good about myself and made me play better to know that those guys were looking at me like I fit and belong here,” Bodden said of his teammates’ recognition. “It was a real big help for me.”
While things seemed to be moving along well at first, the early going was not always easy. With limited roster spots and several young defensive backs in camp, even a few big plays in practice did not always make Bodden feel like a sure shot.
“My confidence was up and down,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like I was good enough to be (with the Browns), but sometimes I thought, ‘am I going to do this?’”
His teammates were more convinced.
“I don’t care where you go to school,” Little said. “When you bring a guy in here and you put him with all these professionals from all over the nation and he stands out, you know the guy can play ball. And Leigh is one of those guys.”
After emerging as one of the team’s most dependable playmakers during practice, Bodden not only made the Browns roster, but also created his share of big plays during the 13 games in which he participated during his rookie season.
Bodden’s 12 scrimmage tackles and 11 takedowns on special teams in limited playing time culminated in the first interception of his career, as he picked off Arizona quarterback Josh McCown in the fourth quarter during the Browns’ 44-6 win over the Cardinals on Nov. 16.
He then closed out his rookie campaign in ambitious fashion, covering Bengals receiver Chad Johnson in the season finale and drawing two crucial offensive pass interference penalties deep in Browns territory at the close of the second quarter in a drive that ended with no points.
Experiences such as the Browns’ win at Cincinnati, which ended the Bengals’ hopes of their first playoff appearance since 1990, have bolstered Bodden’s rising belief that he no longer is just another undrafted free agent, but a proven young defensive back ready to exploit quarterbacks just as he did in college.
“This year my confidence level is high,” Bodden said. “I have a year under my belt and I can do what I did last year but be even better. The next step for me is just to get better. I think I belong here, but I have to keep on maintaining like this is my rookie season again and work harder than I did last year.” http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/news_roo ... 672.0.html