Eagles

How will Eagles go about replacing Jordan Hicks?

How will Eagles go about replacing Jordan Hicks?

At this point, the Eagles' defense should be used to playing shorthanded. Now it's the linebackers' turn, and at least for Monday night, the unit rose to the challenge.

The Eagles were already without Mychal Kendricks to begin with. Then, two plays into the game against Washington, Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending Achilles tear.

"We're praying for him and best wishes for him," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said postgame. "That's a freak injury, and it's going to hurt us to lose one like that."

Hicks' injury had disaster written all over it, especially with Kendricks already out. Once again, the Eagles' depth came through in the 34-24 win.

"It really changed everything," Bradham said. "As you know, me, Jordan and Mychal are really the main three guys that can rotate, but we had guys step up.

"(Najee Goode) stepped in and played well. Joe Walker stepped in and played well, too. We keep plugging guys in and guys keep stepping up for us. They make plays when their opportunity comes."

Bradham was on the field for all 64 defensive snaps, recording three tackles and two quarterback hits (see snap counts). Goode expected to play but saw extensive action after the injury to Hicks, finishing with four tackles in 49 snaps. And Walker lined up for 11 plays, though he did not make his mark in the box score.

The numbers weren't flashy, but collectively, the makeshift trio got the job done.

"The confidence level is boosted tremendously," Bradham said, "when we're able to plug a different guy in who hasn't really seen all the reps all week, hasn't had as many opportunities getting prepared for the game, then comes in the game and shows up.

Goode, in particular, wound up being thrust into an outsized role. A sixth-year veteran who's carved out a niche on special teams, his 49 snaps were by far the most he played since 2013.

It showed initially. Washington went after Goode in coverage in the first half, eventually causing a breakdown on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Chris Thompson.

"I put that all on me," Goode said. "I didn't get out there to cover. They ran a pick route and were able to get me.

"We were able to come back and get it corrected, but I'm a man of my word. I put it on me. We were able to step up and make plays and keep going."

But Goode settled in as the game wore on, and there were no more notable missed assignments the rest of the way.

"The game moves you so fast, you just have to plug and play," Goode said. "The best thing is when it moves that fast, you can't get caught up on the play before."

While their reserves performed valiantly, the Eagles were fortunate to have Bradham healthy. The 28-year-old took over Hicks' responsibilities as the middle linebacker and became much more than somebody who punishes ball carriers.

With Hicks going in and out of the lineup all season, Bradham has become a leader.

"I pretty much take his role," Bradham said. "I get the calls, take control of the defense, make all the calls, make all the checks and just try to keep everyone calm just like he does.

"He's been doing a tremendous job. I actually learned a lot from him being able to do it."

The Eagles confirmed a ruptured Achilles for Hicks on Tuesday, likely cementing Bradham's spot in the middle of the defense for the time being. That may have been of greater concern last season, but in 2017, his teammates are confident he's up to the task.

"He has a chip on his shoulder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "That's his entire game, that he's going to run to the ball, and when he gets to the ball, he's arriving violently. We've needed that. And the biggest thing that stepped his game up — even last year, he played well, but this year, he's gone to another level with his understanding of the defense, his understanding of read offenses and the flow of the ball.

"He's somebody that's been constantly around the football for us. With the amount of injuries we've had, especially with Jordan Hicks being out, having that steady guy in there is important, and Nigel has really stepped and taken that role. He's been a huge part of the success of the defense."

The other silver lining here is Kendricks (hamstring) isn't expected to be out long term. Eagles coach Doug Pederson expressed optimism about his returning to the lineup next Sunday against the 49ers.

That would leave Bradham and Kendricks as the starting linebackers, with Goode joining them in base personnel and Walker as the first man off the bench. All things considered, there's a lot of talent and experience among that group.

Still, replacing a playmaker of Hicks' caliber is not easy, and on Tuesday, Pederson did not rule out a rotation at middle linebacker to help fill that void.

"It's definitely the next man up," Pederson said. "They rally around the guys that are hurt, number one, support them, but at the same time, the bigger picture is we still have a lot of football left, and we have a game this Sunday. The season's not over."

Eagles Stay or Go — The Joneses

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AP/USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — The Joneses

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Donnie Jones
Roob: Jones turns 38 before camp starts and goes into his 15th NFL season out of LSU next year. Jones, who hasn't missed a game since 2004, is as reliable as ever. Including the postseason, he had 26 punts inside the 20-yard line and just six touchbacks. In five years here, he's established himself as the greatest punter in Eagles history. His 45.3 average and 40.6 this past year were very good. They'll drag a guy in to compete, but Jones is still terrific.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jones is 37 now but he's a punter and he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Before the 2016 season, Jones said he wasn't interested in retiring any time soon and there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to stop yet. He had another good season in 2017. Of course, the Eagles proved that no one is immune from the business of the NFL when they decided to go with Rick Lovato over Jon Dorenbos in 2017, but Jones is still a really good punter. During Super Bowl week, Jones got a kick out of hearing he was the only Eagles player who was able to have a legal drink when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl. Jones joked that's probably what he was doing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Sidney Jones
Roob: 
It'll be fun to see what Jones can do with a full healthy offseason and training camp. Along with Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas and Ronald Darby, he's a big part of the most talented young stable of cornerbacks the Eagles have ever had. Where does everybody fit in next year? We'll see. But I expect Jones to be here and playing at a high level for years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It was probably a pretty good thing for the young corner to get some experience toward the end of his rookie season. Fans should be excited about Jones if he really is back to being the player he was before his injury. Because before he tore his Achilles at the Washington pro day, Jones might have been the very best cornerback in a deep cornerback draft. The Eagles have a little logjam at the cornerback position; what a great problem to have. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go —2 big contracts and a fringe player

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USA Today/AP Images

Eagles Stay or Go —2 big contracts and a fringe player

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Tim Jernigan
Roob:
 Jernigan had a very good first half, an OK second half of the season and really didn't do a lot in the postseason, and there's no doubt the Eagles would like to see him maintain his level of consistency throughout the season. But he's certainly not going anywhere, not with $11 million in dead money vs. a $5 million cap hit. Jernigan's talent is undeniable. He just needs to find a way to keep it going through the year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was a little surprised about how little Jernigan played in 2017. He played just 48 percent of the Eagles' snaps and in the playoffs, he played about as much as Beau Allen. Now, I know Jernigan dealt with an ankle injury throughout most of the year, so maybe that played a role. But for a guy who signed a four-year extension worth $48 million during the year, I really didn't see enough. He started off the season really strong, but then seemed to level off some. Maybe the ankle had something to do with that. In any case, he's now signed through 2021. The Eagles need more out of him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson 
Roob:
 We finally saw what Lane Johnson could do with a full season, and it was impressive. Johnson was named first-team All-Pro and made his first Pro Bowl team, and he deserved all of it. Johnson, suspended two of the last three seasons for testing positive for banned substances, was a beast at right tackle. He's not going anywhere for a long time.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: That was the season we've all been waiting for from Johnson. He was a dominant right tackle in 2017 and finally made it to his first Pro Bowl roster. He deserved it. For a long time, there's been a stigma about playing right tackle and that makes sense on its face. Protecting the quarterback's blindside has historically been more important, but defenses have adjusted. That's why guys like Von Miller, DeMarcus Lawrence, Justin Houston and Joey Bosa generally rush against right tackles. Johnson shut down those guys and more last season. It's a big reason why the Eagles didn't move him to left tackle when Jason Peters went down. That was the right call. 

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson
Roob: Johnson stuck on the active roster all year and got into 10 games, catching five passes for 45 yards. But wide receiver depth is certainly one area the Eagles will try to upgrade this offseason. Johnson will get a long look with the other young receivers in camp, but he faces an uphill battle. He's got good speed, size and athleticism, but can he put it all together and catch the ball consistently enough to stick around another year? We'll see.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The young wide receiver had a great spring and summer a year ago to earn his spot on the roster. He really worked his tail off to get better and the Eagles rewarded him with a roster spot. From there, he carved out a role on offense. He was the Eagles' receiver in their 13 personnel (three tight ends) package for much of the early season. But then in late November, Johnson lost his active spot to Shelton Gibson, who didn't play as big a role on offense but was a better special teamer. That was a shock to Johnson at the time. He'll have a shot to make the roster this year, but losing his job on Sundays in 2017 isn't a good sign. 

Verdict: GOES