The Return of Ron Brooks is an Early Bright Spot for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's not exactly the cavalry but the return of Ron Brooks to the practice field was one of the most important developments for the Eagles during the first two days of training camp.
The 28-year-old slot cornerback missed the final 10 games of the 2016 season with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon and was unable to return to offseason work.
For two consecutive days, however, the veteran has been working with the rookies and other first-year players on Jim Schwartz's defense and he's determined to the bolster the reputation of a group that has been almost universally referred to as the club's Achilles heel.
"We take it offensively," Brooks said Tuesday after practice with a substantial media presence gathered around him. "It's just like, if you're a reporter, telling you that you're not a good reporter. And I know ya'll all feel like ya'll the best reporters."
Analogies aside Brooks had his back up about the negative perception of the team's cornerback group, which is expected to start practice on Thursday with Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson handling the first-team work.
"You look at yourself as a professional and you take pride in what you do," Brooks said. "So anytime somebody tells you that they that look at your position -- or whatever your job description is -- as a weakness of whatever, you should take that offensively, especially if you're a competitive person in this game."
Brooks has almost been a forgotten man since going down in the win against Sam Bradford and Minnesota last season and many assumed he would be a salary-cap casualty in the offseason but the LSU product took a pay cut to stay and it's clear both Schwartz and head coach Doug Pederson have an affinity for him.
In fact, Pederson spoke about Brooks like he was the team's nickel corner on Monday.
"He's obviously our nickel defender, nickel corner," Pederson said. "[We] just got to make sure that he's, again, 100 percent each and every day before we proceed with anything further with him."
Schwartz was a little more cautious Tuesday but it's clear he wants a guy he coached in Buffalo before reuniting with him here back in the mix.
"It would be nice to get Ron back healthy," the defensive coordinator said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. He's still coming back from a major injury."
Although there's context to it, the Eagles were 4-2 with Brooks in the lineup last season and just 3-7 without him.
"We had very few experienced nickels really other than [S] Malcolm Jenkins [after Brooks was injured]," Schwartz said. "And that zapped our safety position. You know, there are some times when we have worked Malcolm in that slot, particularly some of the bigger guys. Good matchup on some of those guys.
"Like when we played [the] Atlanta [Falcons] with [WR Mohamed] Sanu last year, Malcolm winning that battle was a huge part of that win. It might have gone unnoticed, but that was a big part of it. We've got to be prepared for smaller, quicker guys, which we have in our division. Dallas is stocking up on those guys. But also the bigger tight ends, the bigger slot receivers, we've got to be able to play both. [The Brooks injury] made us a little bit one-dimensional last year."
After practicing for two consecutive days Brooks seemed no worse for wear and deemed himself healthy, a welcome development for a much-maligned group.
"We're working to make sure we're not the weak point," Brooks said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen