PHILADELPHIA – Sydney Brown raced down the field at MetLife Stadium and aimed at New York Giants’ returner Gunner Olszewski. In the blink of an eye, the athletic rookie defensive back’s season was over.
“You learn so much about yourself, the climb, the journey, when you love the game because the game can be taken away so fast,” Brown said earlier this week at Eagles cleanout day. “It was a non-contact injury. It was taken away from me just like that. It could have been any play.”
Brown, 23, suffered a torn ACL in Week 18 of his first NFL season and will undergo surgery next week to repair the injury.
“It was one of those things. I hurt it, I got up, was like, ‘oh shit, it feels a little unstable,’” Brown said. “I went to take a step and was like, ‘Man, something doesn’t feel right.’ I knew in the moment but didn’t really accept it until I was in the [injury] tent and I guess right then and there I had a lot of emotions.”
Brown’s immediate reaction was to call his twin brother Chase, a rookie running back with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I got into locker room and called my brother. He’s my go to guy to get something off my chest,” said Brown. “We both shared a few tears, not long, but after that I was like ‘Man, I’ll have another opportunity to prove myself again.’”
The timing being so late in the season is not optimal for Brown but many still operate on antiquated rehab timetables for ACL injuries. The new standard is nine months with modern medical advancements and some timeliness can be even earlier depending on how “clean” the tear is.
“Six to nine months,” Brown said. “I’ve already counted down the weeks and the potential when I can be back. The earliest maybe training camp, latest hopefully Week 1. I’m going to do everything in my power to get back.”
Brown’s first taste of the NFL was a trial by fire. A box player in college at Illinois, the Eagles’ plan was to turn him into a post safety because of his speed, range, and athleticism. He first found the field, however, at slot cornerback after Avonte Maddox’s torn pec, as part of a cast of thousands who attempted to settle down the defense’s issues at that position.
There were plenty of mistakes as Brown tried to learn three jobs when you add in his special-teams work but the upside was obvious and highlighted by an awe-inspiring 99-yard pick-six against Arizona when he clocked in at 21.52 miles per hour according to Next Gen Stats.
“There are so many lessons, a lot I learned about myself on and off the field,” Brown said of his rookie season. “Experience is something that’s the best teacher. It can teach you from when you do wrong and when you do right.
“The experience that I got this year, especially with some guys going down to be able to come in and fill roles then ultimately having a role at the end of the season that was specifically for me [was invaluable].”
Brown finished his first season, playing 14 games (six starts) and in 335 defensive snaps with another 220 on special teams snaps. He finished with 45 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble, three pass breakups and the memorable pick-six.