THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - In an alternate timeline, defensive lineman Michael Brockers is helping the Ravens prepare for their divisional playoff game against the Bills.
Of course, that timeline would only exist if Brockers had signed with the Ravens, but that didn't happen as a result of Baltimore nixing the deal after receiving the results of Brockers' outsourced physical last spring.
Instead, Brockers is leading the Rams - the only team he has ever played for since entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2012 - into a divisional playoff game against the Packers. And he wouldn't want it any other way.
"(Re-signing with the Rams) felt like the right decision," Brockers said during a video conference Wednesday. "I think I had somebody hit me up the other day who was like, 'Man, you could've been in Baltimore,' and I was like, 'Man, I'm in LA right now. They're in the same place, man.' For me, I'm living the dream, especially being with this team, being a leader for this team."
One of the Rams' eight team captains this season, the 30-year-old Brockers helped Los Angeles to a 10-6 record and second-place finish in the NFC West, good for the conference's No. 6 seed in the playoff picture. In 15 regular season games, he tallied the second-most total tackles in a single season in his nine-year career (49) and finished with five sacks, 0.5 shy of matching his single-season career-high.
However, for Rams head coach Sean McVay and the rest of the roster, his leadership isn't measured by numbers alone.
"I love him. I'm so thankful that he came back for so many reasons, but he's been a guy that's been doing it at a high level for this organization long before I got here," McVay said during a video conference Wednesday. "The appreciation I have for watching his maturity, his production, everything that he represents since I got here, I couldn't be more thankful and grateful to be able to work with veteran players (like him) that provide leadership. Really, those are the guys that set the culture and they make what is right about the Rams right now."
Los Angeles has an even greater appreciation for Brockers after missing him in Week 17 due to him being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
"He's a playmaker, he's a leader," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said that week. "You definitely want him out there, but we just got to hold it down while he's gone."
The Rams defense came through to help secure a wild card berth with a win over the Cardinals and ensure a chance for Brockers to return for a playoff run. Brockers said the last two weeks have "definitely been crazy."
"When they tell you (that) you have COVID, it's nerve-racking because you're not sure what to expect," Brockers said. "I almost felt like I made myself sick, just knowing, 'OK, I woke up that morning feeling good,' (but) after they told me I had it, then I'm always feeling, 'Oh man, am I getting hot?' Any little thing that you felt like, 'Oh man, is that the COVID?' Just talking to the docs definitely uplifted our spirits and let us know we can get through this. Just take it one day at a time, and luckily we all came out healthy, not really a lot of symptoms. So for the most part, we're just blessed to be here."
Brockers was activated the day before the Rams' wild card game against the Seahawks. While he took his preparation seriously and prepared as best as he could mentally, playing a little over 24 hours after being activated was still an adjustment because of the lack of physical reps.
"You definitely need those reps to get better," said Brockers, who played 55 percent of Los Angeles' defensive snaps and finished with one tackle in their wild card win at Seattle. "When I looked at the film from the game, obviously got through the game healthy, but I felt like I could've been a little more active. Just took that to a lot of the rust I was working off, but I'll be a lot better moving forward."
Rusty or not, Brockers' return was still impactful. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said Brockers' intangible value to the team is something something "that you can never quantify" and "have to see it to know it."
"When 'Brock' got to that game on (Saturday), what it did for our locker room, and then when he got on that field, you just have to see it to know it and to believe it," Staley said during a video conference Tuesday. "It means so much to our team and to me personally when you come into a team as a first time defensive coordinator, who no one's ever heard of, to have a guy like that accept you and to believe in you and then to perform the way he has this year (with it) being a career year for him."
Through all the ups and the downs dating back to last spring, Brockers said "it's a blessing" to be with the Rams.
"This is where I'm supposed to be," Brockers said. "This is the team I'm supposed to win it with. I'm just happy to be here in this spot and ready to go for Saturday."
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