Nigel Bradham didn’t want to speak out of turn, but the Eagles’ most experienced linebacker indicated he expects to return to the field this week against the 8-2 Seattle Seahawks.
“That’s the goal, but you can’t force it,” Bradham said Tuesday.
He has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. In Bradham’s absence, Kamu Grugier-Hill seems to have improved each week. Nate Gerry has been up and down. Against New England last Sunday, Gerry notched the Eagles’ only sack of Tom Brady, but he also missed a tackle that led to the longest gain of the day by either team, 30 yards by running back Rex Burkhead, on a screen.
“It’s been difficult” sitting out, Bradham said. “But I think our young guys are doing well.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz praised Grugier-Hill’s recovery from a training-camp knee injury, and defended Gerry, who has been calling defensive signals with Bradham sidelined.
“Nate has really done a great job. We’ve had injury situations the last couple years where different guys have stepped into the MIKE position, and Nate did it a little bit last year, and he’s done it this year for us,” Schwartz said. “Nobody is perfect on defense, nobody has played a perfect game, but he certainly has made the plays that he’s needed to, and he’s given us a good stabilizing force when Nigel has been out.”
Schwartz demurred when asked if Bradham will get back the green-dot helmet with the headset when he returns.
“Let’s get him back on the practice field first, and then see where it takes us,” Schwartz said. “Nigel has been valuable and has been a key part of our defenses over the years, and if he is able to get back on the field for us, it’ll be a good boost for us.”
Jalen Mills returned to the Eagles’ secondary just four weeks ago, but he still managed to play one of the best games of his career last Sunday.
Against the New England Patriots, the 25-year-old cornerback, coming off a foot injury that sidelined him almost an entire year, allowed just three catches for 11 yards on nine targets.
During his Tuesday news conference, Schwartz heaped praise on his green-haired defensive back.
“Jalen is playing at a high level all across the field,” Schwartz said. “He’s tackling well, he’s covering well. He’s up to the challenge of covering guys and he brings us a lot of spirit and a lot of competitiveness and toughness. I think you’ve seen the level of defensive play increase since he’s been back.”
Schwartz is right. Mills has played more than 90 percent of the team’s snaps in each of the four games since he came off the physically unable to perform list on Oct. 19. The team’s secondary struggled to contain big plays as Mills and his fellow starting corner Ronald Darby battled injuries. They allowed six touchdowns of 30 yards or more in the first eight games of the season, but haven’t allowed one since Mills’ return against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 20.
“He’s always been a respected member of our defense and a guy that the coaches and players both have a lot of confidence in," Schwartz said. "He was down for a while. He worked really hard to get back, and I think all that hard work is paying off for him. I’m really proud of him.”
Mills sustained a foot injury last October that cost him the remainder of the 2018 season. On the first day of training camp, the Eagles placed Mills on the PUP list, leaving him to practice off to the side for the first few months of the season.
Schwartz said that even as Mills was rehabbing, he was an active participant in position meetings, helping his quick transition back to the field.
“Even if he wasn’t playing, he sits right over there and he’s into the game taking notes like if he was playing,” Schwartz said. “And that’s paid off for him.”
The Eagles announced a four-year contract extension for long snapper Rick Lovato, through 2023.