The place sure looked the same, Derrick Burgess thought. And it still had the same smell as all locker rooms: part sweat, part too much cologne.
But when Burgess arrived at the NovaCare Complex for his first practice yesterday as a reincarnated Eagle, just about all of the faces were unfamiliar. Where's Donovan? Anybody seen B-Dawk? How about Hugh?
"It's super-different," said the 32-year-old defensive end. "It's definitely a different team; definitely a different team [with] a different look. But they're playing their butts off. They're a young team that's flying around."
Burgess hasn't been an Eagle since 2004 and has been out of football since New England cut him at the end of this year's training camp. Just a few days ago, he was in Oxford, Miss., going about life after athletics. Then Andy Reid called.
"I had already moved on," Burgess said. "[But] opportunity knocked and I'm just going to try to make the best of it."
Burgess' second chance comes at the expense of rookie defensive end Brandon Graham, whose season ended when he tore his left ACL during Sunday's win over Dallas. A third-round pick out of Mississippi in 2001, Burgess spent his first four seasons in Eagles green before putting up a couple of Pro Bowl campaigns in Oakland. He moved to New England, where he registered five sacks in 2009, but his desire had waned. He just couldn't get comfortable, he said, in the Patriots' 3-4 scheme. Burgess was a defensive end and New England wanted to make him a hybrid linebacker.
"A couple of teams called before the season started, but I wasn't feeling those situations," said Burgess, before explaining the reason he put his cleats back on. "It's the Eagles. It's where I started. I know the coaching staff and they said they needed a d-end. That's what I am: a d-end. In New England, I wasn't."
How much of a d-end Burgess will be for the Eagles remains to be seen. He hasn't played a game since last season's playoffs. He's down to about 245 pounds, which makes him quite undersized for that position. And, though he may know the coaches, this Eagles defense is coordinated by Sean McDermott, not Jim Johnson.
"I'm taking it one day at a time, trying to learn the different calls and things like that and help this team as much as I can," Burgess said. "I'm just trying to learn what I can learn and help who I can help."
The short-term answer for Graham's loss is likely more playing time for the remaining rotation of Trent Cole, Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp until Burgess or rookie Daniel Te'o-Nesheim proves worthy of game-day activation.
The last time Burgess was in the NovaCare Complex preparing for a game, he was dressing with Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Hugh Douglas. As he prepared for practice yesterday, his stall was between reserve defensive backs Brandon Hughes and Colt Anderson. The No. 56 he used to wear now belongs to linebacker Akeem Jordan.
There were a few familiar faces for Burgess, who will wear No. 73. David Akers is still the kicker. Quintin Mikell is still a safety. And though starting quarterback Michael Vick was with the Falcons in 2004, Burgess recognized him, too. Burgess sacked Vick twice in that year's frigid NFC title game, which propelled the Eagles into the Super Bowl. It was the high point of Burgess' first Eagles tenure.
"He gave me hell in that championship game, I'll never forget it," Vick said. "He's a good player. I hope he comes in here fired up and ready to go. We're going to need him."
"I kind of remember, but not really," Burgess joked sarcastically. "That was a long time ago, but, yeah, I remember that."
As Reid mentioned yesterday, there is precedence for bringing back former players. Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter come to mind. But this isn't a reunion. It's a 9-4 Eagles team desperate for depth.
"It's a blessing. Not many people get this opportunity. I'm going to take it in stride and have fun with it," Burgess said. "I'm pretty sure if they were 4-9, they wouldn't be calling. It's different both ways around."
Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon might not know Al Golden from Al Bundy, but he sure is hoping the former Temple coach restores glory back to his alma mater, Miami.
"[Offensive lineman Mike] McGlynn was telling me he was a good coach, but I never heard of him before," said Dixon. "But I know Temple had that good season 2 years ago when they went to a bowl."
Earlier this month, Miami fired Randy Shannon after going 7-5 and qualifying for only the New Year's Eve Sun Bowl against Notre Dame.