It's been almost nine months since August 2, 2009, when middle linebacker Stewart Bradley was last on the field practicing with his teammates. So when he lined up with the first-team defense on the first day of mini-camp, Bradley, close to fully recovered from a torn ACL, relished the feeling.
"It was great," he said. "Just putting my jersey on and walking out and being on the grass was a good feeling. It was a bunch of smiles for me today, I was happy to be out there.
"It's gone fast because I've been on the grind working hard, but it's such a refreshing feeling to be out on the grass running around with the guys again, making calls and I think the guys enjoyed it too."
The Eagles defense sorely missed Bradley's presence in the middle of the defense last season, and the team is hoping that the return of a healthy Bradley will be the first step in improving their performance. But with the influx of young players on the Eagles roster, including nine draft picks on defense, Bradley's role as a leader is almost as important as his play on the field.
"Your years in the NFL go fast," he said. "It's like yesterday that I was getting drafted and now I'm going into my fourth year so it's a reality that as the years go by, you're just kind of one of the older guys. And the guys that are still here that are even older than me, they're obviously, they're the old vets now. Definitely, (being a leader) is a role that all old guys need to step up and relish, and me included."
But Bradley was also quick to qualify his statement.
"I'm not old," he warned, "but I'm probably older than the median age of the team."
Among those new faces, there are three rookies working with the linebacker, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton and Ricky Sapp, as well as Ernie Sims, new to the Eagles after playing his first four seasons in Detroit. So there is certainly depth at linebacker, and that's something Bradley says will bring the best out of everyone.
"It's great competition and it breeds excellence," he said. "We have a bunch of new guys who are new to the system but they're moving around good out there. I'm sure they'll be pushing for playing time on special teams and on defense as well and that's just going to make us better as a squad."
But the big question with Bradley is how well the knee will hold up as he prepares for the 2010 season. With warning that he didn't want to give the cliché answer, Bradley said that he does "feel good," and that he expects to be 100 percent by training camp if all goes well. He also agreed with a sentiment noted by head coach Andy Reid that Bradley has the advantage of having gone through a torn ACL rehab on his other knee while playing his college football at Nebraska.
"It's always easier the second time around because you know that you can push it because it's going to be strong, it's going to be stable, it's going to heal," Bradley said. "That mental barricade that a lot of guys face, I've already gone through that and I think that made my rehab go smoother.
"I think that a lot of guys come back and they run faster than when they tore their ACLs. You work so much on your running form and the strength of your legs, you're doing so much in your rehab, that you come back strong and fast."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 1:54 p.m., April 30