49ers – Eagles: Bradham Takes on Expanded Role as 49ers Loom
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Jim Schwartz downplayed it on Wednesday but Nigel Bradham is the new quarterback of his defense with Jordan Hicks gone for the rest of the season due to a torn Achilles suffered in Monday's 34-24 victory over the Washington Redskins.
The good news is that Bradham, a sixth-year SAM linebacker out of Florida State, has already gotten his feet wet in the role due to previous ankle and calf issues Hicks had been dealing with.
Back in Week 3, Hicks played in only 20 percent of the defensive snaps after first tweaking the ankle and by Week 5 against Arizona it crept up again as Hicks couldn't finish, playing 75 percent of snaps. Favoring the ankle led to calf issues at Carolina where Hicks played in 41 percent of the snaps and Monday night catastrophe stuck as the young star collapsed in coverage while trying to handle Vernon Davis down the seam on the second play of the game.
"We've already played a lot of football without him this year. So it's nothing that we haven't done before," Schwartz said on Wednesday. "Guys will step up into different roles. We've been doing that all season long."
With Hicks, Bradham stays at his normal SAM position in the base defense, but then moves into Hicks' role in the nickel with Mychal Kendricks stepping in as the other third-down linebacker. With Kendricks out with a hamstring problem against the Redskins, Najee Goode stepped into his spot.
"We'll have other, multiple players that will fill -- it won't be one person that will step up and fill. It will be, I guess -- I don't like that word, ‘by committee’ -- but it will be various players that will step in and fill it."
Through it all, however, Bradham is now the guy with the green dot on his helmet and the one getting the defensive signals from Schwartz, something downplayed a little bit by the boss.
"Communication in the helmet, I mean, everybody can hear. It's not like that's -- it's not like there's calculators and protractors and everything else that's required for that," Schwartz joked. "I mean, you hear something and you say it again. You could put a tape recorder out there and do it."
There is more to it than that, however, like adjusting defensive linemen if they are in the wrong gap or have their split a little off as well as making sure the LBs are doing their job.
Bradham confirmed to 973espn.com that he's never called the defensive signals before this season but he's getting more comfortable even getting hot at Goode for losing Chris Thompson in coverage on a Redskins' touchdown.
“Having a green dot on your helmet doesn’t make you a good player," Schwartz assessed. "...[Nigel's] done a good job with it and his leadership is starting to show. He's spreading his wings that way a little bit."
No one in Philadelphia has more experience in Schwartz's system as Bradham was with the Eagles' defensive mastermind in Buffalo during the 2014 season and reunited with Schwartz last season in Philadelphia, which just happen to be Bradham's two best years as a professional and performances he is on pace to surpass this time around.
While Bradham has handled the role already this season Sunday's game against the winless 49ers is the first time he will be actually designated as the team's quarterback on defense.
It's not the toughest test obviously but Carlos Hyde had been an effective running back at times and Pierre Garcon, who remains one of the strongest and most effective possession receivers in this league, generally wants to work the middle of the field.
"You can't overlook anyone in this league," Bradham assessed. "We just have to keep the chemistry going."
The feeling is that the Eagles will certainly do that this week but much tougher tests await.
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 31, 49ers 10 (2017 Prediction Record: 5-2, vs. spread 3-4)
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen