THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Some may find it surreal that 37-year-old Rams defensive back Eric Weddle has been able to make the impact he's had over the last three weeks.
Not Weddle, though.
"As crazy as it sounds, mentally and emotionally I feel like I've been a part of the journey even though I haven't been on the team because I know what has happened," Weddle said during his Super Bowl LVI video conference Monday. "I know how the games have gone and the ups and downs, the good plays, the bad plays and so forth. So it's not really so surreal in this moment. There's a job to be done, and the job's not finished."
That kind of mindset offers insight into the way Weddle has helped spark the Rams' run to Super Bowl LVI following his unlikely comeback.
He started off playing 19 of 56 defensive snaps (34%) against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round, then 61 of 72 (85%) against the Buccaneers in the Divisional Round. In the NFC Championship against the 49ers, he led the team with nine total tackles while playing all 51 snaps starting alongside Nick Scott at safety.
Weddle said he felt back up to speed after the first two plays he was on the field for against the Cardinals. He realized he was "going way too fast" at first, then eventually settled down and reassured himself that he could do this. After that, it was about how his body could transition and become strong enough to play more downs than what he originally started at.
"It's been a slow progression – a lot, a lot, a lot of work," Weddle said. "And I don't think people understand, nobody would understand, but I've never worked so hard in my life or last four weeks to get my mind, body ready for this, because I've been behind a ball for two years. So, it's been great. The plan put forth with (defensive coordinator) Raheem (Morris) and (head coach) Sean (McVay) and the training staff has worked out perfectly now able to be the best version of myself for the Super Bowl. And this was the best case scenario if we made it this far."
When Weddle spoke at his introductory press conference, he mentioned not missing a single call or check in his first practice. That familiarity was reflected in trust the Rams defensive coaching staff had with the amount of snaps he has played throughout the playoffs.
Rams defensive back Jalen Ramsey said he wasn't surprised that Weddle could still play at this level from a mental standpoint, but from a physical standpoint, he was, given Weddle had been away from the game for two years.
With both of those components aligned, Weddle's biggest impact has been his leadership "immediately," according to Ramsey.
"Still he commands a room," Ramsey said during his Super Bowl LVI video conference Monday. "His communication in the backend is like truly what you would want out of an elite safety. It's like he hasn't skipped a beat when it comes to communication and his mental focus and all of that. Being on one accord with everybody, getting guys lined up, all of that. So that's for sure been the biggest impact like on the field."
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said Weddle's arrival "couldn't have been better timing and a better boost for us," not only re-energizing him but making and the rest of the leaders better ones because of his energy.
"Eric Weddle is one of those rare infectious energy guys who just, when he walks in a building, you hear his laugh, you hear his voice, you hear his energy," Whitworth said. "He's here, from 5 a.m. 'til midnight at night. I mean, this guy lives in the facility, and he might as well just put a bed in here, I guess. But he's one of those guys that honestly, his accountability in the way he can kind of push guys and ask more of guys and demand more and really hold that standard of excellence that he does, it couldn't have timed out better for us to get him when we did and have him in the building in this critical stretch when those kinds of things – your attitude, your commitment, your standard of what you do and how you do things – couldn't be more important during the playoffs. It's really the basis of everything in your identity. And to have him added and his energy and his level of really just leadership has been so special."
On the field, one of Weddle's most impactful plays came in the NFC Championship when he tackled 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell for a 1-yard loss. The Rams got the stop on third down, the 49ers then took a delay of game after trying to draw the Rams offsides on 4th down and were forced to punt. On the ensuing series, the Rams the game-tying scoring drive.
"That play on second-and-one, if you just watch the way that he was able to have the concept recognition, trigger in the backfield and get it for a minus-one, it was some great stuff," McVay said on Jan. 31. "He's been awesome. It's a great story. It is a great story. It's almost like some movie stuff that you would write, but he's really doing it in real life."
Weddle will return to his retired life after Super Bowl LVI, which includes planning to coach his son's 14U tackle football team after coaching his 12U tackle football team. But as he said earlier, there's still a job to finish.
"The focus and determination and sacrifices to get this dub on Sunday, and that's what it's been every week," Weddle said. "To do whatever I can to make sure I'm on point for the game and make sure my teammates are, and putting them in the best position possible to be successful. Outside of that, nothing else matters, and that includes everything up into this point. All that matters is playing great on Sunday and hoisting that trophy, and then we'll celebrate after that. But until that happens, the job's not finished."