Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham took on expanded role to keep Super Bowl hopes alive
After Jordan Hicks' injury, Bradham had to become a thinker as well as a thumper.
Malcolm Jenkins talked Wednesday about how Nigel Bradham's adaptability has helped solve a problem that could have derailed the Eagles' Super Bowl season.
Early on in 2017, many observers would have named middle linebacker Jordan Hicks as one of the top half-dozen or so irreplaceable Eagles. Yet Hicks went down for the season with a torn Achilles on Oct. 23 vs. Washington, and the defense did not.
As you saw on the Vikings' lone touchdown of the NFC championship game, scored against backup middle linebacker Najee Goode, those observers were right that the Eagles didn't have a great Hicks replacement on hand. But they have played mostly in sub packages, using Bradham and Mychal Kendricks as the only two LBs, with Jenkins, a safety, sometimes performing as a quasi-linebacker in dime.
Kendricks has responded well to an increased workload and had an amazing game against Minnesota, but the guy who had to make the biggest adjustment was Bradham, who took over the radio headset responsibilities.
"I've been on defenses where you lose your MIKE linebacker and things can get crazy," Jenkins said. "[The other linebackers] aren't used to making calls, getting everybody lined up, communicating, and also doing their job.
Jenkins said Bradham has taken on the signal-calling responsibilities of the MIKE while playing WIL, except in dime when Jenkins sometimes decides to switch with Bradham.
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"He's having to learn all these different positions, take over that role of being the signal-caller, but he's also our enforcer," Jenkins said. "He's the guy that we look for to get big hits, to fly around, talk some trash, and bring a little juice to the defense. A lot of times it's hard to juggle all of that. He's really been kind of the unsung hero of our defense this year."
Jenkins was asked about the impact of the Eagles' making the Super Bowl on the fan base.
"I took out the trash the other day. It was early in the morning and my neighbor came running out of his house, just to shake my hand," Jenkins said. "He had, like, a T-shirt on, like he was getting dressed. … Everywhere in my neighborhood, there's businesses that have signs outside in their windows, 'Good luck.' "
As a rookie, Jenkins played on the only New Orleans Saints team to win a Super Bowl; he noted what that meant there.
"I know what it means, and how close we are, and how excited the city is. We love it, and we're excited as players," Jenkins said.
Remembering the fallen
One of the most extraordinary elements of the Eagles' journey has been that they've made the Super Bowl without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, running back-returner Darren Sproles, special-teams captain Chris Maragos, and Hicks.
Tight end Zach Ertz said Wednesday that the continued presence and leadership of those players has been important.
"All those guys have been extremely supportive of everyone in this building. They were just as excited last game as they would have been if they were playing in the game. … That selflessness is not easy to come by, easy to find. You see a lot of guys, when they get hurt, they kind of check out."
You mean, people watch this? On TV?
Pressed for a favorite memory from the Super Bowls he has watched, Fletcher Cox interrupted the question to explain that he did not have one.
"I really don't watch football. Y'all know that. I don't watch sports," Cox said Wednesday.
That was the last question of the news conference, so left unanswered was the question of what Cox does watch.
Giving Gronk his due
Zach Ertz was effusive when asked about Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"He's set pretty much every tight-end record out there," Ertz said. "The guy is a physical specimen, he's a freak. … He would still be producing those numbers, with or without Tom Brady. I've definitely learned a lot from him. He's a beast after the catch. He's able to use his body whenever he wants to get open – even when he's not open, he's open, with the frame that he has and the ball skills that he has."