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How Isaiah Rodgers came back better than ever after 512-day layoff

How Isaiah Rodgers came back better than ever after 512-day layoff originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

He didn’t have a team. He didn’t have a coach. He didn’t have teammates. 

But he could pretend.

So during his 512-day absence from football – from late in the 2022 season with the Colts until the start of OTAs last week with the Eagles – he spent his days away from the game down in Tampa doing exactly what he’d be doing if he was still with a team.

“I just kept my schedule as if I was still playing,” Isaiah Rodgers said. “On Sundays I used it like a game day so I'd do cardio and things like that. I'd take Tuesdays off as if I was still playing. So I kind of still stayed with the NFL schedule and just continued to work and just prepare for these moments.”

Rodgers spoke with Philly media Thursday for the first time since he signed with the Eagles in August soon after being suspended for a year for violating the NFL’s gambling policy and getting released by the Colts.

You never want to get carried away with a couple spring no-pads practices, but it’s kind of shocking just how good Rodgers looks so far. He’s made plays at both practices, sure, but it’s really the lack of rust that’s been so glaring.

Until these practices, he hadn’t been on a football field since Dec. 26, 2022. It’s now May 31, 2024.

“I think it's a mindset,” he said. “You know, I envisioned, every time I worked out, I envisioned the A.J. Browns and the DeVonta Smiths in front of me, so I think I just kind of locked in during my training and just knowing that when I actually do get back there’s going to be great receivers in front of me.”

Whatever he did, it worked.

It’s way too early to start breaking down the depth chart – a depth chart that pretty clearly won’t include James Bradberry – but Rodgers has come in and earned first-team reps off from the jump and while that’s with Darius Slay sitting out practice Thursday, it speaks volumes that he’s earned the trust of the coaches this quickly after such a long layoff.

“Seeing him out there, he’s not really missing a beat,” said Eagles receiver Paris Campbell, Rodgers’ teammate with the Colts from 2020 through 2022. “You can tell he stayed in shape. It shows. He’s a skillful player, smart, instinctive, he’s got all the athletic ability in the world and I think he’s a great piece for the team.”

It would be easy for Rodgers to be bitter for missing a year – and a year’s salary – over something that’s not even a crime and didn’t hurt anybody.

But he shrugged off the seeming hypocrisy of the NFL suspending a player for making bets while the gambling industry has really become the backbone of the NFL’s marketing and advertising world.

“Rules are rules, and they are there for a reason,” he said. “So you break them you get your consequences.”

Rodgers, the Colts’ sixth-round pick in 2020, played in 45 games with 10 starts and three interceptions in three seasons in Indy before he was released immediately after his suspension was announced.

It was the first time in his life he hasn’t been around football.

What was the hardest thing to deal with?

“I'd say just being away from the locker room,” he said. “That brotherhood feeling and just understanding that I made a mistake and I did my time. And just being back around a great team and a great culture of guys and just finally getting that locker room environment back into my heart feels real good.”

Rodgers has the type of personality to find the positive in any negative, and he did that chatting with the media on Thursday.

“It brought me closer to my loved ones,” he said. “It brought me closer to the game. It made me actually not take this game for granted and just understand the league doesn't need anybody.”

Assuming Bradberry is gone, Rodgers is in the mix with Kelee Ringo, Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean to start opposite Darius Slay.

And Rodgers says he’s a better player now than before he had to sit out the 2023 season.

“I'd say I'm faster,” he said. “I think that's the one thing I can say. I worked on my speed (during the) offseason. I worked on my hands. I think just making plays on the ball is one thing that I definitely played a factor in throughout this offseason, just building up my speed.”

Interestingly, Rodgers said the Eagles were the only team that contacted him after the Colts released him in late June of last year.

And even though he wasn’t allowed in the NovaCare Complex and couldn’t talk to his coaches, it helped to know he was an Eagle. Even though he really wasn’t yet.

“Just knowing that they were a team that wanted me despite the whole entire suspension, just knowing that I had a place that I'll continue to work there an offseason?” he said. “(It motivated me) to come back and be a better player.”

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