Jordan Hicks returned to the Eagles locker room on Monday, sounding like he played for the 76ers.
Hicks, the Eagles rookie inside linebacker, maybe their best and most important defensive player this season, had torn his left pectoral tendon Nov. 9 against the Cowboys, ending his season. This was not the first time he had suffered so traumatic an injury. At Texas, he'd torn an adductor muscle in his left leg one year and his left Achilles tendon the next, missing 19 games. That was hard, sitting out then. This has been harder, he said, but at least you learn something from this kind of adversity.
"They teach you about who you are and what you value and how you're going to react to these types of situations, and how to react," Hicks said. "Sometimes I wasn't in the best of spirits when I tore my Achilles. Now I understand it's all a process. You've got to trust the process."
Trust the process. It's the catchphrase that the Sixers have wielded like a knight's shield against anyone who has grown frustrated and lost patience with their extensive rebuilding plan. With the way the Eagles' defense played Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, without Hicks, his rehabilitation might end up feeling every bit as long and excruciating.
The Bucs rushed for 283 yards in that 45-17 drubbing, and DeMeco Ryans looked every bit like a 31-year-old man who was coming off his own Achilles injury, and Kiko Alonso looked every bit like a linebacker who had missed the entire 2014 season and was hesitant in his reads and reactions. A team doesn't get to 4-6, doesn't have days like Sunday or seasons like this one, without veteran players making mistakes and young, promising players missing time.
Funny how a third-round draft pick, one of the Eagles' few successful selections since Kelly became head coach, came to be so vital so soon.
"It's tough to watch," said Hicks, who in his eight games had intercepted two passes - returning one for a touchdown - recovered three fumbles, forced one, and recorded 42 solo tackles. "Obviously, everybody feels like they can make an impact, but I've got full confidence in our guys. I believe that they're going to get everything fixed. We've got good character guys who can play at a high level. It's just about execution."
Hicks underwent surgery to repair the torn tendon on Nov. 11. The doctors, he said, expect him to recover in three months, a customary convalescence for this kind of injury. He spent some time walking on a StairMaster on Monday and is scheduled to exercise his upper body, to keep his strength up, next week. And he has been picking the brains of two teammates, linebackers Najee Goode and Emmanuel Acho, for advice on how to deal with being off the field for so long.
A season-ending injury in the NFL, after all, is different from one in college. The uncertainty of the player's future as a professional tends to heighten his mental stress.
"You lose time, and a guy goes in and replaces you, and if he does better than you, that could be the end for you. It takes a toll," said Acho, who missed his entire rookie season with the Cleveland Browns in 2012 after tearing his MCL. "I really just let him know that you never know how it'll play out. You never know how it will work in your favor. Just stay attentive and learn.
"I learned the most that year from watching. My rookie year, I wasn't a very good player. Jordan has actually showed to be a much better player. But from that first year to the next year, I learned a lot, and Jordan has proved to be a very cerebral player, meaning that he doesn't necessarily have to do it to learn it. He can see it and learn it. He can improve drastically over the eight games, simply by watching."
It's all he'll be doing for the next six weeks. He will sit and watch and wait and hope that the Eagles can get themselves together and that there are no setbacks in his rehab. Jordan Hicks has no choice but to trust the process, no matter how painful it will be, for him and the Eagles. He just has to get used to it. These days, apparently a lot of people around here do.