The Eagles released the first league-mandated injury report of the season on Wednesday and, while the reports are traditionally unreliable, this one was pretty upbeat as the regular season opener looms into view.
Only three players were unable to practice Wednesday, none of them starters, and only four other players were limited in practice, and some of them for merely precautionary reasons. Everyone else was a full participant, and if one of the driving tenets of the offseason was delivering a healthy roster to Sept. 8 – and it was – then the first mission of the season has been accomplished.
A couple dozen lockers apart, Brandon Brooks and Fletcher Cox spoke after practice about their respective journeys from the operating table to opening day. Both were injured in the playoff loss to New Orleans. Brooks tore an Achilles tendon. Cox suffered a foot injury. Linebacker Nigel Bradham injured a toe in the same game.
All three required surgery and there have been doubts about their ability to get back on the field for the start of the season. Bradham and Cox were full participants in practice on Wednesday and are good to go. Brooks, whose rehabilitation timeline was the longest, was limited on Wednesday, but he is also hoping to play against the Redskins.
“It would be very disappointing if I can’t, but you have to do what’s best for the team,” Brooks said. “You can’t try to play hero ball, where if I do feel something or if it just doesn’t feel right, you tell them and go from there.”
Brooks and Cox are integral parts of the two lines that form the engine rooms for the offense and the defense. As much as the storyline of this season can be anticipated by looking at the skill positions on offense or the swarming ball-hawking secondary on defense, the trenches will ultimately decide if those are successful. Without Brooks and Cox, the odds wouldn’t have been as good.
“I’ve been around long enough and played enough to know how to prepare for a game. It’s a weird situation for me, but I know I can handle it,” Cox said. “I’ve just got to be myself. I can’t force things to happen; not in practice, not in the game. I just have to let it come to me. I was able to go today and I felt good about that.”
Brooks turned 30 in August, and was aware that his goal of returning for the start of the season was ambitious and had doubters. Playing eight months after Achilles surgery is asking a lot, particularly of a 6-foot-5, 335-pound man.
“I can’t tell you how many reports came out at the time of my injury saying I was going to be on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform List), that I might miss this year, that I might not play until midseason,” Brooks said. “And that, for sure, I’d miss the first game. I used all that as fuel and motivation. Once I got out of the boot and started walking, I cranked it into overdrive. Guys come off injuries and people don’t expect them to be the same player. I wanted to be better than I was before. That was relighting the fire.”
Maybe because his injury was different, maybe because he filters the outside chatter differently, Cox focused more on letting the rehabilitation process proceed at a more reasonable pace.
“It’s always hard not competing with your guys that you go to war with on Sundays, but I just had to be smart about my injury post-surgery,” Cox said. “We had a good plan with the medical staff and now here I am, and I’m ready to roll. Those other guys got, what, 30 snaps in the preseason? I’m not that far behind. I’ll be prepared.”
Cox, who will be 29 in December, is coming off a season in which he posted a career high of 10.5 sacks, and still holds the goal of being defensive player of the year. He was third in sacks among defensive tackles – behind Aaron Donald and Chris Jones – but he also draws a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines. If the Eagles defensive line is deeper and more versatile than before, which it could be if everyone stays healthy, teams might not be able to concentrate on Cox as much.
Brooks isn’t the flashiest of players, and guards always tend to be overlooked. But his steadiness on the right side, lining up between center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson, is vital to that unit. For any team, having legitimate championship hopes is often dependent on having your best players available. That’s really true on both of the lines, and while Brooks and Cox have backups who would step into place, the team would take a step back. Now, apparently, it doesn’t have to.