Eagles lineman Brandon Brooks ready for his former team as career takes off

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Eagles lineman Brandon Brooks ready for his former team as career takes off

When Bill O’Brien first arrived in Houston in 2014, one of the first orders from his regime was to scrub the walls in the hallway of NRG Stadium, where players walked to lunch every day, removing giant images of Texans’ Pro Bowlers. 

The actual removal of the images didn’t matter as much as the symbolism behind it. It was a reminder to Brandon Brooks and the rest of his teammates that things were about to change. And they did. 

But now, every day when Brooks walks down the hallway of the NovaCare Complex, he can see his image, with a growing number of Pro Bowl years listed under it, and smile. 

It’s a new reminder: Coming to Philadelphia has really worked out for Brooks. And it has really worked out for the Eagles. 

“I wanted a fresh start, man,” Brooks said Wednesday, the day after he was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. “Wanted to go somewhere else. I came here and it’s the best decision I made.”

’S--- was miserable’ 

Brooks made some headlines this summer, talking about his time under O’Brien in Houston. Back in June, he told a reporter, “S--- was miserable, every day. Every day.” 

On Sunday afternoon, Brooks will look across the field and see O’Brien. He’ll see his first NFL team, with which he had some great highs and some miserable lows. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Brooks said this week. “I’m going to be excited. Will probably be a little bit emotional out there.”

When Brooks made those comments in the summer, they weren’t off the cuff. That’s the way he felt for a long time. When his teammate and friend Lane Johnson came under fire for his comments about the Patriots, Brooks couldn’t hold it back anymore and told everyone what he really thought about the way the Texans were run under one of Bill Belichick’s disciples. 

I was there in 2014, when O’Brien took over control of that team. I was covering the Texans for the now-defunct CSN Houston. O’Brien seems to be a pretty good coach, but he’s gruff; he’s not for everybody, and neither is the way he ran that building. Some players seem to really latch on to that coaching style; some don’t. Brooks didn’t. 

Part of the big problem in Houston for players like Brooks was that O’Brien’s coaching style was such a stark difference from former head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak’s style as a head coach was a lot like Doug Pederson’s — he was a players’ coach and his guys loved him. Those are the kind of coaches who allow and encourage players to be themselves and let their personalities loose. When O’Brien came to town, it seemed in many ways like an authoritarian takeover. Some of the Texans didn’t know how good they had it. 

"Very good player, tough guy, smart guy, did an excellent job for us here," O'Brien said about Brooks in a conference call with Philly reporters this week. "Obviously, in free agency, he took an opportunity to go to Philly. Definitely wanted him back but it was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. But we definitely enjoyed coaching him here."

A new home

The money was close back in 2016 when Brooks decided to sign with the Eagles, but lucky for him, the Eagles offered a little bit more, with a five-year deal worth $40 million. It gave him a good excuse to bolt town and come to an organization he felt wanted him more. 

And when he got to the Eagles in 2016, something special was already happening. Pederson had taken over and had brought some color back to a building that had been grayed by Chip Kelly. 

It felt like home, with guys who quickly became like brothers and an offensive line coach in Jeff Stoutland who quickly became a father figure. 

Perhaps that’s the reason Brooks was able to attack his anxiety head-on. When he missed two games in 2016, it was eventually determined that it was his anxiety that was making him physically ill before games, something he was never able to pinpoint in Houston. In the Texans’ defense, that organization didn’t know he was dealing with anxiety. In fact, they thought a stomach ulcer was to blame. But his feeling of home in Philadelphia allowed him to publicly open up about his issues and fight them head-on.  

“Truly like brothers, man,” Brooks said. “I think that’s what continues to allow us to fight through our games, continues to allow us to not be frustrated on the sideline when something doesn’t go our way, allows us to believe in each other.” 

Pretty damn high 

Free agency began in the NFL in 1993 and my colleague Reuben Frank has covered the Eagles since before then. He has previously created lists of the top free agents in Eagles’ history, so I messaged him Thursday to ask where Brooks ranks. 

“Pretty damn high,” Frank said back. 

Yeah, that sounds about right. 

There’s Troy Vincent, Malcolm Jenkins, Jon Runyan, Nick Foles (if he counts), Asante Samuel, Ricky Watters, Nigel Bradham, William Fuller, and Irving Fryar, who made those previous lists. Brooks has to be right in the mix. 

He’s still just 29 and is in his second straight Pro Bowl season. He helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017 and Doug Pederson called him the “glue” that has held together the offensive line through an injury-riddled 2018 season. 

“I think he’s the best in the league at what he does,” Lane Johnson said. 

The Eagles are lucky to have him. And Brooks is definitely happy to be here. He’ll get a reminder of that Sunday. 

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10 Eagles who might appeal to new Jets’ GM Joe Douglas

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10 Eagles who might appeal to new Jets’ GM Joe Douglas

The fingerprints of Joe Douglas were all over the Eagles’ roster the last couple of seasons. That’s why we saw so many former Bears and Ravens players land in Philly. 

Now, we’re probably going to see a lot of former Eagles end up with the Jets now that Douglas is the GM. 

And because the Eagles are generally considered to have a deep roster — and the Jets perhaps not so much — there’s a good chance the Jets will be interested in players who either won’t make the Eagles' roster or who won’t have a big role. 

With that in mind, here are 10 Eagles who might intrigue Douglas: 

CB Cre’Von LeBlanc

The Eagles brought LeBlanc in off waivers last November and he quickly established himself as the team’s nickel cornerback and solidified a secondary that had been decimated by injuries. But this spring, LeBlanc had been relegated to second team nickel CB and appears to be sixth overall on the cornerback depth chart. LeBlanc ended up in Chicago a few months after Douglas was gone, but Douglas would have been involved in scouting him out of Florida Atlantic. I think LeBlanc is going to make the Eagles' roster, but maybe Douglas could get him with a late-round pick. 

CB Josh Hawkins

I started this list with two cornerbacks because that’s a position the Jets could clearly use some help. If LeBlanc is sixth on the CB depth chart, then Hawkins is seventh and the Eagles aren’t going to keep seven corners. Douglas was a part of the front office that brought Hawkins in mid-season last year and kept him around for this offseason. Once Hawkins is cut free, he could be a depth player for the Jets. 

S Deiondre’ Hall 

Hall is another player that overlapped with Douglas in Chicago. The Bears took Hall in the fourth round of the 2016 draft just before Douglas left town. Then, the Eagles thought enough of Hall to trade for him despite a suspension in Week 1 of the 2018 season. But even with injuries to the secondary, Hall played just six defensive snaps last year with a more significant role on special teams. Is this a case of the front office liking a player more than the coaching staff? If so, maybe Douglas tries to bring him in again. 

C Anthony Fabiano 

Maybe this one is a bit of a stretch, but as I understand it, the Jets are light at center. Fabiano is the top Eagles center who will likely be cut free. Undrafted out of Harvard in 2016, Fabiano has been with a bunch of teams and has played in nine career games with two starts. He joined the Eagles’ practice squad in November. 

EDGE Daeshon Hall 

A former third-round pick, Hall joined the Eagles last season and actually played in three games. He has a shot to make the roster this year, but if he doesn’t, he could be intriguing to Douglas and the Jets, who could use some extra pass-rush talent. 

DT Treyvon Hester 

The guy who tipped the double-doink is likely competing for a roster spot with Hassan Ridgeway, whom the Eagles brought in via trade at the draft. If Hester gets cut, he could provide a little interior depth for the Jets. 

RB Donnel Pumphrey 

When the Eagles traded up to draft Pump in the fourth round a couple years ago, Douglas praised him, saying Pump was a little dog who plays like a big dog. Pumphrey has never been on an active roster, but having Douglas in another city could possibly give the undersized back one more landing spot, perhaps as a practice squad player. 

ILB T.J. Edwards 

Edwards still has a chance to make the Eagles’ roster or perhaps stick around on the practice squad, but he’s a productive college player who many thought was going to be drafted. Douglas loves players who were productive in college and Edwards certainly fits that requirement. 

WR Greg Ward Jr. 

The Eagles brought in the former Houston quarterback as a project in 2017 and he has yet to make the roster, but is making another push this offseason. There are a few guys fighting for those last couple of receiver roster spots and if Ward is cut loose, he could be a deep roster addition for the Jets. 

EDGE Joe Ostman 

The Eagles seem to love Ostman, but I’m not sure there’s room for him on their roster. Howie Roseman seems to be a huge Ostman fan, but Douglas likes hardworking players and Ostman is definitely one. 

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at wide receiver?

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at wide receiver?

The Eagles’ top three additions at wide receiver from a year ago are all gone, yet there’s a lot of enthusiasm surrounding a returning star and a fresh face. Is this group of pass catchers poised for a better or worse season in 2019?

Key additions: DeSean Jackson (trade, Buccaneers), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (draft, second round) 

Key departures: Golden Tate (free agent, Giants), Jordan Matthews (free agent, 49ers), Mike Wallace (free agent) 

Why they could be better: DeSean Jackson

The Eagles had the right idea attempting to pair Alshon Jeffery with a speed receiver on the outside the last two years, though it hasn’t worked entirely to plan. Torrey Smith was a serviceable deep threat in 2017, but a bit of a one-trick pony who would vanish from the offense for weeks at a time, and Mike Wallace wound up injured after two games and zero catches in 2018.

Jackson represents an upgrade over both players. Even at 32, he remains one of the NFL’s preeminent vertical threats. No receiver with at least 40 catches finished with a higher yards per reception (18.9) last season, and the three-time Pro Bowler is tied with Josh Gordon for the highest average among active players – their 17.4 more than a full yard better than Smith. Jackson can be a weapon in the intermediate passing game as well, something the Eagles experimented with a lot during OTAs. This is precisely the type of dynamic skill set that can elevate an offense.

Why they could be worse: Health concerns

Jeffery has played 16 games just once in the last four seasons, and he somehow did that with a torn rotator cuff in ’17. (It should be noted his four-game absence in 2016 was a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, which can still be construed as a “health concern” of sorts.) Jackson has missed at least one game every year dating back to 2014. They’re 29 and 32 respectively, so the likelihood of more injuries has only increased with the passage of time.

Great as this duo looks on paper, the Eagles are a couple of mishaps away from fielding a receiving corps of Nelson Agholor, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins, who has injury issues of his own after sitting out all of ’18 with a sports hernia. In fact, this was an issue early on last season when Jeffery, Wallace and Hollins were out, forcing the club to sign Jordan Matthews off the street. The offense looks a little better prepared were similarly bad luck to strike again, though there may not be an available replacement who can step in so seamlessly next time around if necessary.

The X-factor: What can Arcega-Whiteside bring to the table?

This is essentially a more interesting way of asking who will serve as the Eagles’ fourth receiver — not an unimportant job. Last season, Matthews caught 21 passes in that role. A year earlier, Hollins reeled in 17 as a rookie. And there are always injuries, so we’re also talking about the next man off the bench here.

Arcega-Whiteside has the inside track, and at 6-foot-2, 223 pounds with a 34-inch vertical, it’s not difficult to envision him becoming an instant weapon in the red zone. The Stanford product grabbed 14 touchdowns as a senior and 28 in a three-year college career. However, Hollins showed promise started practicing at the end of OTAs, so the Eagles could have another option if Arcega-Whiteside is slow to develop. Perennial camp favorite Greg Ward is in the mix for a role as well. So it becomes a matter of how much the new guy can pick up in a short amount of time.

Are the Eagles’ wide receivers better or worse?

On paper, there’s no question this is a better group with Jackson taking the place of Wallace or Golden Tate. And in Arcega-Whiteside, there appears to have a prospect who can potentially step into Jackson’s or Jeffery’s shoes in the event of an injury. The Eagles felt inclined to make mid-season moves at receiver in ’18, signing Matthews and trading for Golden Tate. If the absences mount again this year, the offense should be able to get by.


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