After spending five years in Buffalo, some would say it just clicked, but others attribute the new coaching staff with guiding
“He’s worked extremely hard and I’ve said he’s kind of been under the radar a little bit and has put together a string of very good football games. He’s worked extremely hard along with coach (Donnie) Henderson to make himself better prepared,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “I’m proud with the way he’s done it.”
During McKelvin’s tenure with Buffalo, the cornerback had a tendency to not turn his head around to look for the ball in coverage, resulting in failed attempts to make a play on the ball on deep passes.
“As we all know, in previous years of me being here I just had the problems as far as like going up to get the ball and losing those down field battles as far as going to get the ball and things like that,” McKelvin said.
McKelvin said in his first conversation with Henderson they identified his problem and set out to correct it.
“He just worked on things as far as getting my head around once I know he’s going for a deep route or anything like that, to get my head around and look for the ball,” McKelvin said. “That’s the big thing he puts a lot of emphasis on especially with everybody in the secondary as far as get your head around for the ball, look for the ball once you got the guy covered.”
Since making that correction in his game, McKelvin has racked up two career highs with 52 tackles and 16 pass defenses, which leads the team.
“He’s always had great speed. Now he's got great technique,” Henderson said. “He’s got his head around more looking for the ball. Since he's done that he can see the ball coming and make a play on it.”
McKelvin said he finally feels good about his performance on the field.
“I would say I’m winning my battles that I lost,” McKelvin said. “Basically I can really say that, I can really feel like as a cornerback as things with me going through my last five years when I was here. I would lose those battles downfield, not all the battles, but I’m winning those two or three battles that I lost downfield.”
The goal for McKelvin is to become the perfect cornerback. He said his approach to reaching that achievement is playing every down as if it were his last.
“I’m trying to win this down, and that’s how I’m going to improve my game,” he said. “Just win each down and try to win individually and get the ‘W’ at the end.”
Opposing quarterbacks have targeted McKelvin 89 times, according to ProFootballFocus, and McKelvin allowed just 42 completions, or 47.2 percent completion. That’s the second lowest completion achieved by any of ProFootballFocus’ top 20 cornerbacks, despite being targeted more frequently than anyone else in that group.
“I don’t think people have talked about enough is Leodis,” Marrone said. “I think he’s having a heck of a year. No one is really talking about him. He’s really shut down every one of his opponents so we’re getting very good play from both of our corners right now.”
McKelvin is arguably having the most complete season of his career, but he’s done it without a single interception, perhaps explaining why he’s under the radar. McKelvin said interceptions aren’t his number one focus.
“Interceptions, you know I want them to be there, but really my focus is…if I don’t catch it, they don’t catch it,” McKelvin said. “That’s how I’ve been going along with it. I really want the picks, I don’t want to be the only guy in the secondary without an interception.”
To Byrd, a player with four interceptions this season, interceptions aren’t the most important statistic for a defensive back, but overall performance is.
“You’ve got to look at the overall body of work,” Byrd said. “I think he’s doing a great job of shutting people down at his position. He’s handling it, and he’s doing a great job.”
Byrd said McKelvin is right, his first focus is locking down the receiver, but said after that intercepting the pass is the next course of action.
“It depends on what position you’re in. If you’re trailing, if you’re beat a little bit, you’ve just got to worry about trying to play and break up the pass,” Byrd said. “But if you’re in a good position, you’ve got the guy secured, then yeah your next thought is to go for the ball.”
McKelvin said he isn’t worried. He hopes to have an interception to his name before the year is over.
“Like I said in time those interceptions are going to come, they’re going to come to me,” McKelvin said. “The quarterback’s going to give it to you, like I say as a corner I can have four picks a year, period. Not even being in the right place. I feel like the quarterback’s going to throw you four picks. And it’s been there, it’s been there, I’ve just got to come up with those interceptions and turnovers.”
Byrd said McKelvin is in a healthy state of mind both about interceptions and his overall game, too.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and once you have confidence, it just carries over into his game. You see him playing with a lot of confidence.”
McKelvin said he drew his strengthened confidence from an unlikely source — rookie players.
“It’s been me being able to step up. With these guys being younger than me, they’re looking at me as a role model, so I’ve got to step my game up,” McKelvin said. “So I told myself I would not go through it like I went through my first five years.”
After working with those rookies and fellow veterans on the team, McKelvin has reformed his game. Now winning his individual battles McKelvin’s remaining goal is to help make the team a winner as well.
“I’ve been here for so long, I’m just tired of like going home in December and things like that, feeling like I still want to play for the playoffs,” he said. “I really want to do it for my teammates, I love my guys I’m playing with in the secondary. That’s one reason I came back, and I just want to win really, truly.”