A visit to the Mayo Clinic revealed a cyst behind McBriar's left knee was pressing on a nerve. The cyst was removed in February, McBriar started punting again about a month ago, and Wednesday evening he arrived at Lehigh after signing a 1-year deal with the Eagles.
"I've always enjoyed coming up here," McBriar said, echoing dozens of longtime Cowboys over the decades — or not. He said former Eagles punter (and current Redskin) Sav Rocca gave him "a good report on the place — I've only heard good things." Rocca and McBriar, former Australian Rules Football stars, have been working out in San Diego together.
Whether McBriar, 33, ends up punting for the Eagles this season in place of 2011 rookie Chas Henry probably depends on how the nerve heals. Eagles coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that McBriar, who holds Cowboys records for gross, net and punts downed inside the opponents' 20, was about "90 percent." He will wear a brace on his foot/ankle for a while as he completes his recovery. McBriar said he feels he has full function, but it might take a few more months for the nerve to completely get back to where it was before the cyst appeared.
"I'm rusty," McBriar said, "but I hit 'em pretty well." He was one of four punters who attended a Monday tryout at Lehigh. Then he worked out for Dallas Tuesday, but ESPN.com reported the Eagles offered a better deal.
McBriar said that last season, doctors in Dallas thought his nerve problem might stem from a back issue, but couldn't find anything.
"They were all sort of of scratching their heads," he said.
By the time McBriar went to the Mayo Clinic for answers, the cyst had grown, and was quickly diagnosed as the problem by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Robert Spinner. "He said, ‘What you have, that's what I collect.' He had a big grin on his face. I had the surgery immediately. It's been a good recovery since then," McBriar said.
"It was to the point where I wasn't so worried about football, per se, I was just worried about, ‘OK, now what am I going to do with this drop foot? Am I going to have this the rest of my life? ' To get an answer in Janurary and then to have the surgery in February was the best news I could have had. It's been all systems go since then," he said.
Henry's 42.9-yard gross ranked 25th, three spots below McBriar, last season. His net — which often reflects punt coverage as much as the punter — was slightly better than McBriar's figure, 37.5 yards (26th) to 36.7 (28th). McBriar ranked 20th in punts downed inside the 20; Henry was tied for 25th.
"It should be great competition. That's what we're trying to do," Reid said. "You're talking about a kid who's one of the best in the National Football League. He's coming off an injury, so we'll have to see how all that works out. He'll have to work through that, but he had a good workout, obviously impressed us there. I wouldn't expect Chas to bow down to him at all; he's going to come out and compete, and it should be a good battle."
Reid indicated the Eagles had been thinking about bringing in McBriar for a while, that they had to wait for his recovery to progress.
Eagles special-teams coordinator Bobby April spoke to reporters Tuesday and left no doubt Henry would have to win his job back, even though the Birds had released rookie punter Ryan Tydlacka just before rookies reported to Lehigh.
"I definitely want some competition for him," April said. "I want [Henry] to elevate his game, and he wants to elevate his game, because he is a good punter. He's a talented guy, Just needs to be a little more consistent in pushing that line of scrimmage a little farther away from our goal line."
There is now a collective bargaining agreement-mandated 3-day "stepup period" for players signed during training camp, so McBriar won't be practicing right away.
Contact Les Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.eagletarian.com.