Jordan Hicks warmed up on the field before Thursday's preseason opener, his first time playing a game since rupturing his Achilles tendon. He stopped to pray. And then he retreated the locker room to sit by himself with a towel over his head and tears in his eyes.
"I reflected on everything that went into it," Hicks said. "It's easy to see for people what goes on out here [on the field]. They don't always understand what happens behind the scenes. When you go through something like that, go through a season-ending injury – six, eight, nine, 10 months recovery – those days gets long, those months get long. It's tough, watching, wishing you were out there."
Hicks played six snaps on Thursday, 290 days after the devastating injury. He was the only one from the Eagles' rehab all-stars (Hicks, Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos) who played in the preseason opener. Six snaps in an Aug. 9 game seldom resonates so much with a player of Hicks' status, except it occurred to him that the last time he was in that locker room with full pads and a game uniform, he was told his season was finished.
"You sit and think about all the things coming back from an injury, hard work, and early mornings, times when it sucks, you can't walk," Hicks said. "Family, friends have to wait on you hand and foot. It affects us all. So reflecting on all the people to get me back and just getting back to that point was very rewarding."
Hicks so badly wanted to play. The Eagles could have held him out, claiming caution with him the way they did in the spring. They could have said they know what he can do and limit his preseason work to controlled environments. But that would not have gone over with Hicks. Coach Doug Pederson said last Tuesday that he wanted the healthy Eagles to play in the preseason opener, and when Hicks was asked whether he's considered in that group, he wouldn't dare let his name go in the injured category. Hicks has taken every snap the coaches have asked him to take this summer. There have been no restrictions. He doesn't consider himself injured.
"I'm over it," Hicks said. "I can't tell you enough."
>> READ MORE: Practice observations from Saturday's open session
His inclusion in the lineup was not lost on others in the organization. Hicks is well regarded at the team facility and so valuable to his defense. He's demonstrated his talent and intelligence in three years with the team, and his only Achilles heel might be his Achilles heel, his latest season-ending injury among a lengthy injury history.
"Watching him go through…the surgery, the rehab and all his conditioning last season, he was in the building every single day last year," Pederson said. "What he did this offseason to put him in a position to help our defense again, he saw what the team did and he's hungry to get back out on the football field. He was a little taken aback being able to be back on the field the other night. He was excited to be out there and be back with his teammates."
Pederson said Hicks "played really well" and added that "there were really no signs of injury." Linebackers coach Ken Flajole said Hicks has not been behind in practices even though the team limited him in the spring. Flajole went as far as to say he doesn't even think about the injury with Hicks. And Hicks did not feel different on the field on Thursday than he did last August.
"It actually felt like I hadn't left," Hicks said. "It really felt normal. Felt kind of slow. As much as I've been out, I feel like I've picked up where I left off. We're lucky to go against the best O-line in the country, so being out there and feeling confident, and getting that confidence back was nice."
>> FROM APRIL: Jordan Hicks knows he can be productive … if he's healthy
Hicks was part of the first-team defense that forced two three-and-outs, which was why his snap total was limited to six. It's been said often this offseason how important it is for Hicks to stay healthy considering the lack of depth at linebacker. The Eagles won the Super Bowl without Hicks last season, but the defense is clearly better with him. And because of the continuity – Hicks, the signal-caller, is in his third season playing with Nigel Bradham and has played his entire career with defensive stalwarts Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox – Hicks said he can focus less on what the players around him need to do and can focus more on what the offense presents.
He knows that can only happen when he's on the field. But he's been on the field all summer. And if there was any doubt remaining about his recovery, then starting the first preseason game should answer it.
"As soon as I could get back on the field," Hicks said, "I wasn't going to miss that opportunity."