A player had a problem, and a head coach extended himself and in the end, both men deserve all the credit in the world for Shawn Andrews returning to the practice field on Saturday and resuming his career as a Philadelphia Eagle. The head coach, Andy Reid, kept the situation private during the weeks Andrews missed practice and dealt with his personal problems and then when the time was right, Reid reached out to Andrews first as a man, and then as a mentor, and then as a head coach.
Everything is moving in the right direction for Andrews. That much was clear on Saturday afternoon when Andrews dealt with another hurdle on on his road to recovery after a long bout with depression. He met with the media, who pulled no punches asking pointed questions trying to learn more about how a young man who seemed to have the world in the palm of his massive hands revealed, in breathtakingly honest fashion, that he battles the same demons as every person.
Andrews missed all of training camp, as well as the fiinal week of the team's voluntary June passing camp, wondering what his next step would be. No matter how much success he had in his football career, or how thick his back account was, or the fame and popularity he possessed among those who really didn't know him, Andrews was a tortured man, driven, as he said at the NovaCare Complex, "on the edge."
It was Reid who brought him back with a nurturing, sensitive, caring approach. It was Reid who reached out to Andrews and made a pact: I care about you more as a young man than as a player.
"Initially, the first thing, we didn't talk about football. We talked about making sure Shawn was okay and that he got the help that he needed," said Reid, recalling the first conversation he had with Andrews upon learning that his Pro Bowl guard and effervescent locker room personality was suffering from clinical depression. "Then, he moved up here and got on that same route, and when we felt that he was in a good place, we talked about the football part of it. That's kind of what's taken the time. You get into these things, the football part is secondary to the person and we want to make sure that person's alright."
Andrews has done all the right things since making the decision to return to the Eagles. He reported to training camp weighing 331 pounds, below his intended playing weight. He showed he was serious about winning back any teammates who might have doubted his intentions by addressing the team and explaining himself. He followed the Reid Plan of how and when to get back to practice and to address the media.
The moments of self doubt and uncertainty of how he would be received have been removed layer by layer as he works his way through the routine: Meeting with players, getting back into practice, circling in the huddle, lining up with the first-team offense. Andrews still has a long ways to go, for he will have to battle the condition and take care of himself and understand that there are those out there who are going to question his motives and, yes, there are going to be fans who will be cruel and try to get him off his considerable game.
What matters now is that Andrews takes a positive approach.
"He seems to be upbeat. I think he was a bit nervous coming back in there and the unknown," said Reid. "And now that he's been here, he's been received by his teammates, and really the people that he's run into outside the building, in a very positive manner. So, you can see a little bit of the stress that he was carrying in his face, he's got a little relief there. That's a positive thing I think."
What comes into question now, on a much less important scale than how Andrews the young man works his way for the many years of struggle that he could face, is how well his assimilates back into the team. Andrews seems to have cleared his most urgent moment in the locker room: He came back, spoke to the team, invited any teammate who has a question to speak to him directly and can now look each and every man in the eye with confidence.
What about on the field? Is Andrews going to be the kind of player he was in years past, when he was largely regarded as one of the very best guards in the NFL? Does he love the game? Will he find it worthwhile to sacrifice the blood, sweat and tears when the going gets tough?
We don't know the answers to that. Andrews doesn't know. He is going to learn about himself every day, taking the approach that every positive step he takes now is a message to all of those suffering from clinical depression, no matter their background.
"I've received a lot of phone calls from public figures and people who have gone through what I'm going through. I've also learned that, among African American men, and really men period, we just hold things in," said Andrews. "Whether it's a football player or a man, you are still like, 'I'm a man, nothing bothers me.' But, if you internalize it, it has to come out somewhere. People question my silliness, but I'm a fun-loving guy. Being around people, I don't care what creed you are, it just ignites my silliness. You'll never know if I'm hurting on the inside. I found out."
Andrews is the starting right guard here, although there is no telling yet if he will start Friday night against the Patriots. Andrews needs to get on the fast track to prepare himself for the regular season opener against the Rams. Time is waning. There are two preseason games and three weeks between now and the opener, and while Andrews has kept his fashionable figure, he hasn't hit another football player in a live situation since December.
All of that seems secondary at this point. It's just good to have Andrews back with the team, at ease and confident in his decision to return. Reid, whether you know it or not, deserves credit here. He spent more time than he had to make sure Andrews was making the right kind of progress, earning even more respect and admiration and love from his players.
And in the end, that is what is most important here. Reid treated Andrews like a man first, and a player second. That approach went a long way toward restoring The Big Kid as a member of this football team.