Replacing Nigel Bradham Will Take a Village
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The status of Carson Wentz for Thursday's opener against the Atlanta Falcons had overwhelmed the city of Philadelphia.
The dance of perceived competitive advantage and the acolytes defending a Super Bowl-winning coach [many of whom were already calling for Doug Pederson's scalp after his 7-9 rookie season] against the big, bad "fake news media" intent on tearing down an icon because we evidently enjoy those types of things.
Once Falcons coach Dan Quinn dispensed of the silliness with one perfectly-timed joke during his conference call with reporters on Sunday, Pederson finally gave up the charade and named Nick Foles the starter against Atlanta, the only choice he had because the organization's medical staff still hasn't cleared the rehabbing Wentz for contact.
Lost in the shuffle of all that is the realization that the Eagles have other lineup concerns as well, perhaps none more important than replacing the suspended Nigel Bradham.
Jim Schwartz simply doesn't deal with game-plan related questions in his press briefings and didn't reveal his plan against the high-powered Falcons but his context did offer the answer.
Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill and perhaps even more players at his disposal.
"No," the defensive coordinator predictably responded when asked who would replace Bradham, one of his favorites dating back to their days together in Buffalo and a player who will not be available until Week 2 because of a 2016 incident with a cabana boy at a Miami Beach hotel.
"That's certainly not as top secret as other things," Schwartz joked moments after Pederson begrudgingly broke protocol to name Foles the Week 1 QB at the same podium moments earlier. "We'll miss Nigel for this game. He's not going to be replaced by one person. I'll just say that."
Part of that is obvious because Schwartz is in his base defense about 25 to 35 percent of the time in a typical game, a number that tends to spike a bit against Atlanta because it has one of the few offenses which still uses a traditional fullback at times.
"They are one of the few teams that actually employs a fullback. So they do run some two-back sets," Schwartz said. "You'll see probably six different personnel groups with us, matching what they do offensively. They use two-tight-end packages. They use two-back packages. They have two backs where it's two halfbacks, not a fullback. They have four-wide packages. The traditional three-wide, extra offensive linemen.
"Substitutions, personnel matching was a big part of the games we played the last two years against them and I would expect the same thing to be in this game."
In other words Schwartz is going to need both Gerry and KGH, who battled throughout the summer to win the weakside LB gig that used to be the domain of Mychal Kendricks.
Against the Falcons, however, one will also need to be next to Jordan Hicks in the nickel in Bradham's role. Unlike when Bradham is available, though, the position is unlikely to be a static one.
"We'll try to compartmentalize some guys," Schwartz explained. "... We have a new guy coming in [D.J. Alexander, claimed on waivers from Seattle], so we'll have guys covering up a lot of different roles up there. … We have confidence in those guys. There were games last year that we had to do that, also" because of injuries."
One of the things Schwartz did in those games last season was play more dime, something he feels comfortable doing because of the versatility of Malcolm Jenkins and the savvy of veteran safety Corey Graham.
In that scenario, Jenkins would play the nickel LB role with Graham rotating in at his safety spot while the talented Sidney Jones stays in the nickel.
"You look at some players, like Malcolm Jenkins, [S] Corey Graham, both our linebackers; Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, they can all play multiple positions within the scheme," Schwartz explained. "There's techniques involved to that, but I think the understanding of knowing not just their job, but how the entire defense works, that's what is beneficial from that."
So as to who replaces Bradham against the Falcons?
The anser is simple -- it takes a village.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen