Brandon Brooks Made the Right Choice with Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The biggest battle of Brandon Brooks' life has nothing to do with superstar players like Aaron Donald.
Anxiety has always been Brooks' toughest foe and for a professional football player, the sports-obsessed culture of Philadelphia doesn't seem like the best fit, at least on the surface.
If you don't like the mood of most area fans, wait five minutes. Doug Pederson was a football deity back in February and at times this season, he's been portrayed like the man behind Frank Reich's curtain. To some, Carson Wentz has gone from superstar quarterback and MVP candidate to the injury-prone hurdle journeyman Nick Foles needs to overcome to get the Eagles back to glory. Heck, even reporters who don't validate obsessive minds need thick skin as my own hate mail can attest to.
Brooks, however, jumped in feet first to all of that as a free agent courtesy of the Houston Texans before the 2016 season and has come out on the other side with his second straight Pro Bowl berth earlier this week.
“It came down to the two of them when I was coming out [of free agency],” Brooks explained on Wednesday. “And as far as the money, they weren’t very far apart. I’ll leave it at that. But I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to go somewhere else. I came here, and it’s the best decision I ever made. I just wanted to do something different.”
Brooks' new start in Philadelphia had to do with the system and trying something new but Texans' coach Bill O'Brien insisted he wanted Brooks to stay in South Texas.
"Very good player, tough guy, smart guy, did an excellent job for us here," O'Brien said during a conference call earlier 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."
While things have worked out for both sides with Houston closing in on an AFC South title and Brooks now having two Pro Bowls on the resume and a Super Bowl ring since relocating, Brooks pointed to Philadelphia OL coach Jeff Stoutland as the key to his personal achievement.
“I give all the credit to what I’ve been able to do since I got here to Stout,” Brooks said. “I look at Stout as a father figure. I talk to him not just about the game but about life. Text him little stuff here and there making sure he’s good and everything is good with his family and if he needs something. Stout’s been not just a tremendous coach but teacher helping me understand the game, understand what I can and can’t do as a player."
And the sky is the limit there.
“I think he’s the best in the league at what he does,” Brooks' linemate Lane Johnson said.
That doesn't mean it's always been easy on Brooks, who had to be shut down for two games back in 2016 when the anxiety before games he thought was an ulcer in Houston became too much, resulting in crippling vomiting attacks.
Instead of shying away from the issue the 6-foot-5, 356-pound Brooks did what he does best on the football field, he went straight ahead like a road-grader going public with his issues and seeking treatment, a decision that obviously helped him but also many others suffering from similar issues.
It's a never-ending struggle for Brooks, who admitted Wednesday he still has anxiety attacks on occasion "but I deal with it.”
Johnson, a first alternate in this year's Pro Bowl selection process, is much more than a teammate to Brooks. The two play next to each other on the field, have lockers together and are close friends outside of the NovaCare Complex.
“I dealt with the same stuff, anxiety, and depression,” Johnson said. “It’s really about self-disclosure. You’ve got to be careful who you tell stuff to because sometimes they’ll mock you with it. Sometimes they’ll throw it back in your face and tease you with it and don’t take it seriously. But I can tell you right now depression and anxiety, it’s real, especially in this league. There’s a lot of guys who have dealt with it or are dealing with it. And I think the stigma about it is the problem."
Brooks' journey has helped many of those players, After all, if you can admit it in this town and develop into a well-adjusted star in the league that serves as hope.
“I’ve had players come up to me and kind of discuss it and we take it from there," Brooks explained.
This weekend Brooks will see plenty of familiar faces when his old team visits South Philadelphia.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m going to be excited. I’ll probably be a little bit emotional out there," Brooks explained. "I’m excited to go against my former team. They’re really rolling right now."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen