It has not been an easy road back to the playing field for Eagles Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, but there he is warming up before practice at the NovaCare Complex, all smiles. You take something away from a person and that person finds out just how much he/she misses it.
In the case of Brooks, who suffered a shoulder injury that ended his 2019 season prior to the playoffs and then ruptured his left Achilles tendon the following spring running during a rehab session at the NovaCare Complex and missed all of 2021, the words are hard to get out of his mouth.
"This was my first season ever where I wasn't out at all, I completely missed the whole season and you know, it's funny, man, when stuff like that happens, things get put in perspective. You see things in a different light and for me, obviously, I've had my struggles before the game that affected the game (anxiety struggles earlier in his career) and I wasn't out there a couple times," he said. "It's just seeing things in a different light than I did before. I am at peace.
"I've seen the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows and through it all, thank God I woke up the next day, right? No matter how bad things have seemed or how good things have seemed, I've come through it. Things are all good."
As much as Brooks missed football -- he tore his right Achilles tendon in the playoff loss at New Orleans that ended his 2018 campaign and then returned to play the entire 2019 season before the shoulder injury in the regular-season finale at New York -- the Eagles missed him just as much along the offensive line, which suffered a rash of injuries in 2020. Brooks' was the most devastating. A three-time Pro Bowl player, Brooks is at the top of the NFL's guard class when healthy. At 335 pounds, he's a mountain of a man who plays with power, athleticism, toughness and the kind of grit that teams well playing between center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. Brooks and Johnson for years have formed the league's best right-side blocking combination.
But the injury last spring that ended Brooks' season before it started was a huge void to fill. The silver lining for the Eagles was that young players like Nate Herbig, Matt Pryor, Jack Driscoll, and Sua Opeta gained some valuable reps, so the depth in the offensive line room this spring is promising. The best news is that Brooks is on the field and that he feels great, with his usual high expectations set for the season ahead for him and Johnson together, no matter what anyone else says.
Having Brooks healthy would be a tremendous lift for the Eagles and the right side of an offensive line that includes Johnson, who battled ankle and knee injuries last season and played in only seven games.
"Brandon looks great out there," Johnson said last week. "Having him back out there, I love it. We're going to pick right up where we left off."
Said Brooks: "Me and Lane, within ourselves, there is no doubt. I think it's more the outside – for example, basically, I've had back-to-back Achilles tears, I'll be 32 this year, things like that – but I think the biggest thing that everybody is forgetting is, I've torn my Achilles before and when I came back I was the best. Period. So, with that said, what tells you it would be any different this time? That's exactly how I feel.
"As far as proving ourselves, yeah, I mean I guess there could be a debate. Prove it that you're going to be healthy. Prove it if you can make it through 17 games now, things like that. As far as proving yourself, what haven't we done? That's the question. What haven't we accomplished? So, there is no doubt or 'Hey, we're in our 30s coming off injury and we don't know if we can do it.' We've done it. We'll be fine."
Brooks was actually cleared to play last December and he returned to practice in the final week to get a taste of the field and to be around his teammates after a season of, largely, rehab, COVID-19 testing, and isolation. A 10-year veteran, Brooks has overcome anxiety that he battled earlier in his career and now the injuries.
There is no fear with Brooks. He suffered the torn left Achilles tendon and went right to work on his rehab. He didn't flinch a bit. Brooks didn't cry after his injury. He just set another hurdle to clear.
"It's just another goal that I have to reach," he said. "Another setback, but I've been down this road before, so there's never any doubt in my mind."
A new year, a new Brooks. And if he comes back as he expects – there hasn't been any rust, he says, in terms of technique or conditioning – then the Eagles' are in the most favorable shape possible at right guard. Brooks is on a mission to be the best, the player he's been with the Eagles since they signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2014. He's had daydreams about being at Lincoln Financial Field, a packed house, playing in front of the passion of Eagles fans.
"It's going to be insane. It's going to be rocking," Brooks said. "I know the Linc is going to be screaming. It's going to be on fire, man. I'm getting excited talking about it, to be honest. It's not just the season. We've got those two open practices at the Linc (August 8 and August 22) and I know that's going to be crazy.
"I'm excited to have the fans back out there. The fans play a big part into getting us hyped up, into getting us going. It will be great having them back out there. We've got the best fans in the league, so I'm looking forward to it."
It will be great having Brooks back out there, too. He's the best in the league, something the Eagles are reminded of every time they see him lined up at right guard in this modified offseason program.