Most weeks, Chandler Brewer lines up against the best in the sport. He just does it on the practice fields in Thousand Oaks rather than on Sundays at SoFi Stadium.
But when the 25-year-old offensive lineman made his first NFL start in Week 9 at Tampa Bay, the moment wasn't too big for him, in part because of the inventory he's built up working against Aaron Donald.
"Going against 99, going against those guys, the 'one defense,' they're great players," Brewer said. "You know they're going to make you better, and I'm just trying to make them better, as well."
For the better part of his career, Brewer's role has been to provide realistic looks for Donald, Greg Gaines, A'Shawn Robinson and the Rams defensive front. Last week was different. For the first time as a professional, he was preparing to start. Or perhaps a more accurate description of Brewer's state of mind? He had been prepared to start.
"I was a lot more calm than I thought I would be," the Alabama native said of stepping onto the field at Raymond James Stadium.
It showed in his performance. Pro Football Focus awarded him with the highest game grade of any Rams lineman. Brewer was pleased, but mostly with the 57 snaps of live game film to study and use as a foundation.
"I looked at it as a good step in the right direction."
There have been many steps – several of them uncertain – leading to that accomplishment. In June of 2018, the summer before his senior year at Middle Tennessee State, Brewer received a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis. He had a lymph node removed, then treated another spot on his leg with five weeks of radiation. He feels thankful to have avoided chemotherapy, and to have been put in remission with annual checkups scheduled each December.
However, when the pandemic struck in 2020, his experience as a cancer survivor colored his choices.
"Hardest decision I've ever had to make," Brewer said of opting out of that NFL season. "But I think it was the right one."
After months away from football for the first time in his career, he had every intention of returning to the Rams. But as a college free agent, nothing was guaranteed. He was waived at the end of training camp in 2021 and spent the Super Bowl season on the practice squad. The same two-step occurred this summer. Finally, due to attrition on the Rams offensive line, Brewer was signed to the active roster as the team travelled to face the Buccaneers.
It was the moment that paid off all his patience.
"Yeah it (did). So many times just waiting for my opportunity. Just sticking in there and grinding no matter what happens," Brewer said. "To finally get that opportunity, it was awesome."
For more on Brewer's football upbringing, his love of the outdoors, and a preview of the Week 10 contest against the Arizona Cardinals, join us for this week's Rams Revealed on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform.