Brandon Bair has been down this road before as he chases his NFL dream: Roster cuts are coming and the degree of uncertainty rises for just about everyone on the team. You think you're playing well and the coaches give you good feedback and then, boom, everything changes.
It's happened to Bair twice. He's been cut a pair of times -- September, 2012 by Kansas City and then a year later by Oakland -- and so Bair understands how it works in the NFL. You take nothing for granted. You give maximum focus to what you can control, and only that.
So now that the word is out about Bair, that he's fitting in so well as a five-technique defensive end in the Eagles' 3-4 front, the reporters are circling and they want to know how he feels about what's going down as he looks to find a home in this league.
"I feel like I'm playing the best football I've ever played, and it's largely because I stayed here throughout the offseason and got myself in the best shape of my life," said Bair, a former standout at Oregon who completed a two-year Mormon mission immediately after high school. "I'm stronger and I think I'm moving better. I understand what the coaches are asking us to do and I just think it's all coming together for me."
Married with three daughters, Bair isn't a fit-the-mold player. He has extensive interests beyond the game, including the world of business. Bair owns a training facility in Idaho, rehabs houses and turns some of them into rental properties and owns a used car dealership. Bair has a life plan, and he hopes the Eagles are part of the picture for the foreseeable future.
It sure looks like it could turn out that way after three preseason games. Bair has been a tower of strength at end, getting his hands up to clog a quarterback's passing lane and knocking down a couple of passes. He's been a disruptive player, particularly against the running game after spending all of last season -- the Eagles signed him one day after he was cut by the Raiders -- on Philadelphia's practice squad.
Bair has put his time to good use. He already had a strong foundation in the scheme, having played for Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro when Azzinaro was on Chip Kelly's coaching staff at Oregon. Bair has long arms and good technique and he's been and outstanding two-gapper -- a defensive lineman takes on the blocker head on, rather than trying to go up the field through a single gap, and is expected to defend the gaps over each of the blocker's shoulders -- in the preseason.
A roster spot is not guaranteed, because the Eagles still have a week of training sessions and then one more preseason game before the rosters are trimmed to 53 players. But should Bair continue his fine play, he's going to be difficult to cut.
"It's not my decision, so all I can do is work hard and improve myself every day," he said. "I've got a family. This is a business. I understand that. I'm here to earn a job and take care of my family. That's been my purpose.
"I know the feeling of not making it. You have no choice when that happens but to keep working and taking care of your family, whatever it takes."
Kelly says that Bair is "in the mix" among the hopefuls for the defensive line, a group that is young and promising and filled with energy. Bair turns 30 in November, and the "too-old" question is one that Kelly answered after Thursday's win over Pittsburgh.
"I hope he doesn't age more than four or five years during the season," said Kelly, joking. "My concern is the season. So I think if he continues to put himself in positions to play, then our focus with those guys is what's going to help us immediately. We're not building for the future. Our future is right now."
That's what Bair is all about: the here and now. He's a cerebral, mature man who has chased the NFL dream to here. This is the best opportunity he's had. He's long and a tactician and a hungry football player.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep over this or anything like that," he said. "I'm here every day working and competing. That's all I can do. I'm enjoying this experience and pushing myself. I'm pleased with that. I'm giving it my all. That's really all I can ask."