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When he arrived here the first time, Chris Gocong was the young kid on a veteran defense that included guys like Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard.
Now the roles are reversed. Gocong turns 30 in a few months, and he’s participating in an Eagles rookie camp with a bunch of kids like Bennie Logan, Jordan Poyer and Earl Wolff, who were freshmen and sophomores in high school when Gocong was drafted by the Eagles.
“You know, it is humbling,” Gocong said. “But we’re all in the same spot, trying to make the team.”
Gocong, the Eagles’ third-round draft pick in 2006, is the lone veteran participating in the Eagles’ three-day rookie camp this weekend.
The Eagles selected Gocong out of Cal Poly, where he had been an All-America defensive end. The plan was to convert him to outside linebacker, where he could use his pass-rushing ability to rack up sacks and his athleticism to drop back into coverage.
Gocong wasn’t bad. He started 39 of a possible 52 games from 2007 through 2009 and was a starter on the 2008 team that went to the NFC Championship game.
But he never became the sack machine Jim Johnson and Andy Reid envisioned. Gocong, who set an NCAA Division 1-AA record with 23½ sacks in 2005, had only four in three years in Philly.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was a tough transition coming from straight defensive end in college to 4-3 linebacker. That was really tough. It did take me some years to learn the movements and the coverages.”
Gocong was benched for Moise Fokou late in 2009, briefly moved to middle linebacker and then finally traded to the Browns before the 2010 season along with Sheldon Brown for linebacker Alex Hall and two late-round draft picks.
“It’s just one of those things where your path might take you somewhere else and then maybe take you back,” he said. “I don’t dwell on the past too much. Just see where I’m going from here.”
Gocong started in 2010 and 2012 for the Browns and played well enough that he got a three-year, $16.8 million contract two years ago.
But he tore his right Achilles during a practice at Browns training camp in August and hadn’t done anything since. Until Friday.
“It was tough,” Gocong said, “So much work went into it and to all of a sudden have it cut short and miss the season was really tough.”
It was also bad timing. Gocong’s contract was up, and the Browns, with a new staff, had no interest in re-signing him.
So he put his ego aside and agreed to practice this weekend with his old team as a non-roster invite.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “You have a serious injury, teams want to see how you are, and obviously I have to show that my ankle’s OK and I can play.”
Gocong is nine months out from his injury. That’s quick. He was cleared only about a month ago.
“There’s guys who’ve been back in seven months,” he said. “I think [Terrell] Suggs did it in seven months. Obviously, it’s a lot different with the movement in being a linebacker, but I think it’s realistic.”
When he first came to Philly, Gocong was a hot-shot third-round draft pick with a four-year, $2,889,730 million contract.
Now he’s not even on the roster. He’s playing just for a chance to get signed.
He just smiles at the situation.
“You never know,” he said. “You really don’t know … with free agency and injuries.”
After his first practice with the Eagles in four years, Gocong said it was surreal being back on the practice field at the NovaCare Complex but said he has great memories of his first stint in Philly.
“It took me back,” he said. “Being with the young guys and just going out there, they’re so hungry. It did take me back.”
Incredibly, the only guys left on the roster from Gocong’s rookie year are Jason Avant, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole, and the only guys still on the defense Gocong’s final season here are Cole and Antonio Dixon.
But who knows? The Eagles need help at outside linebacker, and if healthy Gocong might be able to help. He’s certainly smart, and he believes he’s a much better player now than when he was here the first time.
Plus, his old Browns position coach, Billy Davis, is now Chip Kelly’s defensive coordinator. That can’t hurt.
“He’s so smart,” Gocong said. “He’s such a great coach. I’m lucky to get a chance to come here and play with him as a coordinator. … I think Billy knows what my strengths are and my skills, and he can put them to use.”
Then he quickly added, “If I’m here.”
The Eagles will likely make a decision on whether to keep Gocong for the rest of the summer next week, after his three rookie camp workouts.
If he can run and is showing no effects of the Achilles injury, he’ll get a chance to compete for a roster spot.
“If everything goes well, I’ll be here,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”