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June 18, 2020

John McMullen: For Eagles, there's no 'replacing' a guy like Brandon Brooks

Opinion Eagles

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139_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Brandon_Brooks_Carson_Wentz_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks and quarterback Carson Wentz.

It’s hard to quantify what the loss of Brandon Brooks to a second Achilles’ injury means to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Maybe the only way to do so is to look at the man, a 6-foot-5, nearly 350-pound Rock of Gibraltar who was arguably the Eagles’ best pure football player during the 2019 season.

And the veteran right guard somehow managed to accomplish that despite starting the campaign just eight months off a torn right Achilles’ suffered in the January 2019 divisional-round playoff loss in New Orleans.

Not having Brooks at all for the presumed upcoming 2020 season creates a hole as big as the man himself.

Consider that setback against the Saints gnawed at the organization with All-Pro center Jason Kelce saying, “I would argue, maybe, a hurt right guard away from getting back to the NFC Championship Game," despite all the trials and tribulations coming off Super Bowl LII.

The team again hit a wall in the playoffs this past January after an impressive late-season run when Brooks dislocated his shoulder in Week 17 against the New York Giants. While most focus on Jadeveon Clowney’s hit knocking Carson Wentz out of the postseason loss to Seattle the next week as the turning point few add the context that Brooks wasn’t around as well.

“This guy has worked extremely hard to get himself back and back in shape, back in playing shape to have a solid 2020 season. So obviously we feel for him,” coach Doug Pederson said on a Zoom conference call earlier this week after learning Brooks tore his other Achilles’ while rehabbing at the Novacare Complex. “To have to go through this again — we know that he'll push through and he's done a great job with all his rehab and getting himself back, so we're very confident there.”

Matt Pryor, a 2018 sixth-round pick, held his own at RG against the Seahawks in place of Brooks back in January and is one of a host of options Pederson and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutalnd will consider in an effort to move forward.

"I felt it kind of helped me escalate my game," Pryor told the Eagles’ website when discussing his opportunity against Seattle. "Of course in practice, you're going against some of the greatest D-linemen in the league … and after a while in practice you kind of get a feel for what you're doing so you can go into a game and take what you learned in practice from being on the 'look' (scout) team and try to get your bearings.

"I still feel like I've got a lot to learn and I'm glad to have so much experience around me on the O-line."

The understanding moving forward, however, is that Philadelphia won’t be replacing Brooks, it will be persevering no matter the path ultimately chosen.

That plan might be an in-house younger player like Pryor, Nate Herbig, Sua Opeta or 2020 fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll, going outside the organization for a Larry Warford-, Kyle Long- or Josh Kline-level of stop-gap, or perhaps the most likely end game, revisiting the Jason Peters situation and bringing the 38-year-old Jeffrey Lurie favorite back for one more go-round.

Even the idea of trading for Patriots star Joe Thuney has been floated by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, an almost inconceivable fix from a financial perspective because Thuney is currently counting $14.78 million against the cap after signing his franchise tender. Howie Roseman’s reputation of checking on everyone, however, allows those types of narratives to be advanced easily.

The most likely “outside” option remains Peters and the deck chairs will start to shuffle in that circumstance. While moving parts isn’t typically what Stoutland prefers, a source close to the OL coach noted how much he loves and respects Peters and indicated “if [Peters is] back, he’s playing left tackle.”

That would likely mean Andre Dillard kicking inside to left guard with the versatile Issac Seumalo slotting in on the other side of Kelce in place of Brooks.

Too many have become entrenched in the mindset of Dillard playing LT because the Eagles drafted him to play there but they also once selected Lane Johnson to be the heir apparent to Peters and ultimately abandoned the idea when Peters kept going at a high level and Johnson started to excel on the other side.

More recently, Avonte Maddox put himself on the Eagles’ radar with his strong work as an outside cornerback at Pitt but Philadelphia drafted him with the projection at slot corner due to height concerns before plugging him in at free safety as a rookie due to injuries. Now the Eagles have come full circle and have Maddox penciled outside after the signing of Nickell Robey-Coleman.

The point here is that Mike Tyson rules always apply in the NFL: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

And Brooks hearing his left Achilles’ pop on the seventh of eight 60-yard shuttles Monday was that punch for the Eagles.

Now it’s about regaining the senses, lasting the rest of the round, and trying to work things out on the fly. Maybe Pryor simply seizes the spot or Driscoll’s smarts enable him to hit the ground running. Perhaps the heady Kline is a cheap stop-gap or you take the gimmee at LT with Peters and throw Dillard into the deep end at a different position.

It’s fair to say the organization was disappointed in Dillard not fighting through a move to RT last season when Johnson was injured but the big concern from the then-rookie’s perspective was the shifting of sides. Dillard is a “left-handed player” not comfortable on the other side of center.

A potential move to LG would eliminate that part of the equation for Dillard and it becomes about the differences in the position with the interior being a more bang-bang type of environment. Obviously, Dillard needs to get stronger but that was the case at LT as well.

“We obviously haven't made any decisions,” Pederson said. “We are going to take a look at a lot of different scenarios, different possibilities and we have some time before training camp to try to sort these things out. At this time, we are just feeling for Brandon and want to make sure everything goes smoothly with him and getting him back on track.”

The key to all of this may be Seumalo, a player the Eagles believe can play any position on the OL and give at least a competent performance.

In the end, the Eagles are better equipped to handle this kind of injury better than most teams in what is an O-Line-deficient league, but the DNA of this franchise, really dating back to Andy Reid’s arrival in 1999, is about building up front on both sides of the football.

Without Brooks, an obvious strength has turned to uncertainty overnight.

"[Pryor] played last year at the end of the year. Herbig got in a game there at the end of the year and these [young players] have to understand there’s a little bit of a sense of urgency once we get into training camp," Pederson admitted. "Things are going to move fast and we as coaches need to evaluate these players. I have to put them in a position to be successful to show what they can do. And that’s everything we’re in the process of doing right now.” 



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John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week every Monday and Friday on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SBNationRadio, and daily on your favorite podcast platform for "Extending the Play." 

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