It's been a long wait but Chicago Bears offensive tackle Cory Brandon (6-7, 324) finally accomplished one of his many goals in the NFL. Last week, Brandon was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
"What a great opportunity now that I have moved from the practice squad to the regular roster. It's what I'd been hoping for all season," Brandon said. "I had no idea that was coming to me. I just go out there every day and hope for the best, play for the best. As a practice squad guy you know that moving to the regular roster is not your call and you have to be patient with that. Your time will come eventually if you are good enough."
Brandon, a second-year player out of Oklahoma, was signed last season by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie. He played in all four preseason games with the team but was cut in early September. The Bears brought him to Bourbonnais for training camp this year and, following the preseason, signed him to the practice squad, where he has stayed all season.
In Week 13, Chicago lost Lance Louis for the season with a knee injury and were without Jonathan Scott (hamstring) last week. Brandon, who has ideal size for an offensive tackle but is extremely raw, was brought up to add depth in case injuries continue to fell the starters.
"As every fan knows, the O-line has experienced a number of different roster changes this season," he said. I"njuries have been a major problem. We're trying to get the right combination, the right chemistry, going with the guys who are healthy and ready to play."
Brandon wasn't active on game day last week against the Cardinals, a game in which the offensive line dominated up front. Against a stout Arizona defense, the Bears as a team rushed for 152 yards and the front five gave up just one sack.
"I felt that last week against the Cardinals, things were coming along well. The communication on the line was effective and for the most part, we accomplished what we set out to do. When you have new players coming into the O-ine, success is in timing and communication. We've concentrated on that during practice these past few weeks."
Brandon will take part in his first NFC North game this week when the Bears go on the road to face the Detroit Lions, a game Chicago must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"Detroit will be a huge game for us. It's a tricky situation because while you are very aware that it's a must-win game, it's also the kind of a situation where it's best to put those thoughts out of your mind. During a game it's best to focus on what's happening on the field at all times. You can't let your mind wander, or go mentally to the next game, or you'll find yourself in big trouble.
"They are a very physical defense. They move quickly and can get right in there if you let them. The Lions have motivation. They'll want to keep us out of the playoffs and I'm sure they'll give us whatever they have against us.
"The week leading up to this game has been full of trash talk back and forth between the two team's players. There's a lot going on about this in the media right now as well. I try to stay as far away from that as possible. I have enough to do just getting ready for the game.
"We've spent considerable time in the meeting rooms discussing our last meeting with the Lions. Again, a very physical game, but I think we found some vulnerabilities then that we can use to our advantage now."
"Saying something is a must-win game is kind of a cliche and a term we don't use very often. When you think about it, every game we play should be a must-win game. I personally don't feel any added pressure and I think that is also true for most players here. Our job is to go out there and play to the best of our ability. If we are able to accomplish that, then we can come away with the win."
Brandon said making the 53-man roster is just the first step in what he believes will be a long and prosperous career.
"My confidence in this team and in myself is solid. I have worked hard to reach this point in my football career and now I need to show the coaches that their decision to move me to the regular roster was a good one.
"The thing I've noticed being here in the NFL is that everybody's good. Everybody's smart. You have to distinguish yourself in some way in order to do well.
"I'm big and I'm fast. I study hard. I come to work every day and show a love for the game. I understand my position on the line and I think I can bed. This is a unique opportunity and I'm ready to justify the coaches' faith in my abilities."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.