The Eagles’ ‘Other Backup QB’ Has Also Exceeded Expectations
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Much is made of the Super Bowl-bound Eagles and the way they have shrugged off the loss of their star quarterback to keep their eyes on the big prize.
What's often forgotten is this team has lost both of its QBs -- Carson Wentz and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks -- and is still 15-3 and set to visit Minneapolis next week for a Super Bowl LII matchup with the New England Patriots.
And while Wentz was lost late in the season after the Eagles had really done most of the heavy lifting to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Hicks went down with a torn Achilles back in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins.
Since that time veteran SAM linebacker Nigel Bradham has stepped into the all-important communication role for the first time in his career, staying on the strong side in the team's base defense and moving over to take over Hicks role in the nickel while Mychal Kendricks has filled in admirably as the other three-down linebacker.
“I’ve been on defenses where you lose your MIKE linebacker and things can get crazy,” Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins said Wednesday. “[The other linebackers] aren’t used to making calls, getting everybody lined up, communicating, and also doing their job."
Not Bradham, who has handled the job of aligning the front seven with nary a hiccup while also performing his own job at a high level, particularly in pass coverage.
"I think Jordan brought a lot to our defense, was the quarterback of our defense and was a playmaker," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz explained on Tuesday. "I think one of the unsung stories of this season has been Nigel picking up that communication."
"That's a tough thing to do when you've got the coach speaking in your ear about, ‘Hey, remind this guy this and we're going to this call, but check it to this if something else is going on’," Schwartz continues. "And he's done a really good job handling all that communication, and it's been fairly seamless."
ProFootballFocus.com graded Bradham as a top-20 linebacker this season, largely because of his work in defending the passing game. Only speedy second-year LB Deion Jones of Atlanta and Seattle All-Pro Bobby Wagner graded out better than Bradham this season as coverage LBs.
"Nigel has always been a fiery guy," Schwartz said. "Sometimes I think he runs about five extra miles trying to get to the pile to make sure he's delivering whatever message he's going to deliver and it brings us a lot of energy, it really does."
Maybe the biggest surprise is Bradham handling the cerebral part while also maintaining that role of intimidator in the front seven.
“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.”
The final piece to the puzzle is Bradham's versatility, another trait that has helped the Eagles' other "backup QB" lead the team into Minneapolis.
"He’s been able to play a couple different positions. He's been multi-dimensional," Schwartz said. "... I think that's gone a little bit sort of unsung, also, but it's helped us to deal with the loss of Jordan Hicks."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen