It's been a long time since Caleb Brantley was last on a football field.
The past seven months have been a long process, Brantley told Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael. He was on Injured Reserve for all but the first game of the 2019 season, and since then he has dedicated every day towards making a full recovery.
Still, there's no denying that Brantley has stores of untapped potential; that's why the Redskins re-signed him. and he's eager to prove himself along a young and talented defensive front.
"[I'm] almost back being 100%," Brantley said. "I can't wait to just step on the football field."
Long before Brantley was playing for the Redskins, he was a highly touted defensive lineman at the University of Florida. Viewed by many as a second-round prospect, Brantley quickly rose to become a dominant force in the Gators' interior defensive line. He finished his junior season with 31 tackles, 9.5 of which were for a loss, and 2.5 sacks with three quarterback knockdowns.
Brantley declared for the 2017 NFL Draft but fell all the way to the sixth round, where the Cleveland Browns selected him 185th overall. He only played in Cleveland for one season, recording 18 tackles and two sacks in 12 games, but that was enough to convince the Redskins to pick him up off waivers once he was released.
The following two seasons were difficult for Brantley. He only recorded one tackle in seven games during the 2018 season, and then he re-injured his foot in the season opener of the 2019 season. The injury has been particularly daunting for Brantley; he said he has never experienced anything similar in his career.
"This is going to be my toughest test," Brantley said. "So, I look forward to the challenge. I want to challenge myself and see how I can get on top of the situation. I want to come out and prove people wrong."
Fortunately for Brantley, the Redskins defense will provide new opportunities for him to prove himself. Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are switching the Redskins from a 3-4 front to a 4-3, which excites Brantley because that's a system he is familiar with dating back to his days at Florida.
"I feel like I get to use my explosiveness and my disruption in a 4-3, so I'm just ready to cut it loose," he said.
Brantley's power and strength are exactly why the Browns drafted him. His draft profile on NFL.com states that Brantley has "tremendous play strength and can dislodge guards" with his hip torque. Draft analyst Lance Zierlein compared Brantley to Aaron Donald and believed he had the talent to be a starter and a "defensive force up front."
Once Brantley fully recovers, he'll add quality depth behind players like Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis. It helps that Brantley has stayed in touch with his teammates on the defensive line, so he has already built chemistry with them.
"Those guys have been extremely supportive," Brantley said. "They call in and check with me all the time. We still work out from time to time, we hang out. Nothing's really changed. That just speaks volumes on the group of guys that we have."
Brantley cannot rehab at Redskins Park with the league requiring all facilities to close down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he's still focused on doing whatever it takes to return to full strength. His primary goal is to be in peak condition for training camp.
Brantley said he has "a lot of frustration built up" because he hasn't been able to be on the field. Eventually, he will be able to release that frustration, which is what he loves about football.
But until then, Brantley believes Redskins fans haven't seen the best of him yet.
"I haven't really gotten to put much film out there," he said. "So, just stay tuned."