Eagles

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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NFL 2020 tight end rankings: Could Zach Ertz miss the top-four cut?

NFL 2020 tight end rankings: Could Zach Ertz miss the top-four cut?

Zach Ertz has been an elite pass-catching tight end basically since 2014, his second season with the Eagles. His size, route-running, and athleticism makes him a near-impossible matchup for defenses.

But Ertz turns 30 this November, and he has a TE1-in-waiting sitting behind him on the depth chart in Dallas Goedert. Is 2020 the year we see him take a step out of the elite tight end ranks?

The folks over at Pro Football Focus think, even if it's not a big step, Ertz won't be a top four tight end in the NFL this season. They projected receiving totals, and instead of Ertz rounding out the top four, as most would expect, they have...

Rob Gronkowski?

Yep:

There's a lot to take in here. Let's look at some things that aren't Ertz.

For one, Mark Andrews at No. 1 would be quite a jump for the third-year tight end. He's had two great seasons to start his career, but the Ravens aren't a pass-happy offense. I don't see the yards piling up like this.

The Raiders' Darren Waller had 1,145 yards last year. It's possible he's a one-year wonder, and it's likely rookie Henry Ruggs III sees Waller get fewer targets, but having Gronkowski over Waller is... odd.

As for Gronk, he hasn't played a 16-game season since 2011, and he went for just 682 yards in his most recent NFL season. Is he well-rested enough to return to 2017 form? Maybe. But with stud wideouts like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin available for Tom Brady, there likely aren't enough targets in Tampa Bay to push Gronk to 999 yards.

Now, for Ertz. Ertz has reached 999 yards in a season just once: 1,163 yards in 2018. He saw his yards number tumble last year, but the whole team really took a step back, and Dallas Goedert became more comfortable in the offense. Ertz is still a stud until proven otherwise, and I think he's still a top-four tight end. 

Of course, with rookie Jalen Reagor catching passes, Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both ostensibly healthy, and Goedert continuing to grow, Ertz could either see his pass-catching opportunities get easier... or see his targets dry up. So it's not unthinkable that he finishes with, say, 825 yards in 2020.

But I certainly don't think he'll finish lower than a recently-unretired Gronk.

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Why Richard Sherman feels white QBs like Wentz speaking up about racism is important

Why Richard Sherman feels white QBs like Wentz speaking up about racism is important

Last Thursday, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz posted a message online speaking out against institutional racism in the United States after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis last Monday night by a police officer in an incident caught on camera. The officer kneeled on his neck for an extended period of time while Floyd was handcuffed.

Wentz speaking up - saying that "institutional racism in this country breaks my heart and needs to stop" - was an unusual move for the quarterback, who normally avoided discussing anything societal during his first four seasons with the Eagles.

But his decision to break that trend was felt around Philadelphia and nationally, and a number of other white players, including the Eagles' Zach Ertz, echoed his sentiments in the following days.

And Wentz's message apparently earned him some serious respect from veteran San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.

Sherman spoke with Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer over the weekend, and had good things to say:

First, Eagles QB Carson Wentz said something. Then Bengals QB Joe Burrow said something. So too did Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and new Cowboys QB Andy Dalton. All those guys are white, and all could’ve kept quiet in the face of something like this, like quarterbacks routinely have in the past. But they didn’t.

As to the importance of that, I didn’t even have to ask Sherman to go there. He went on his own, volunteering his feelings on the gravity of their words.

'I’m impressed with the white QBs speaking up because those are voices that carry different weight than the black voices for some people,' Sherman said. 'Which means the people who refuse to listen to a black athlete’s perspective will hear the same thing said from a white athlete, but receive the message much differently. So it’s awesome that more people are speaking out, because in sports, you really have a love and appreciation for your fellow man, regardless of race.

'And I think that’s what makes sports and teams so special, because a lot of the stereotypes are torn down. You really get to know one another, not judge based off nonsense.'

On the football field, Sherman and Wentz have faced off just once since Wentz entered the league in 2016, a 26-15 Seahawks win in Week 10 of Wentz's rookie year. Sherman intercepted Wentz in the third quarter.

But off the field, it seems the two have plenty of common ground in the fight for justice and equality.

The Eagles and 49ers are scheduled to play on Oct. 4, the Sunday Night Football game for Week 4, this season.

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