Joe Walker

Vaitai and Walker getting comfortable with bigger roles

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Vaitai and Walker getting comfortable with bigger roles

Halapoulivaati Vaitai is not Jason Peters. And Joe Walker is not Jordan Hicks. 

But the Eagles aren't asking them to be. 

In the first game without their starting left tackle and without their starting middle linebacker, the Eagles picked up a 33-10 win over the lowly 49ers (see breakdown)

Both late-round draft picks a year ago — Vaitai was a fifth-rounder and Walker was a seventh-rounder — the two second-year players figure to have significant roles for the rest of the season. So far, so good. At least OK. 

Vaitai had a rough start Sunday, giving up an early sack. It's something we've seen from him a few times over the last couple of years. But like he has in other games before, Vaitai settled in as the afternoon went on (see Roob's observations)

"I just need to work on staying calm and play with poise," Vaitai said. "I tend to overlook things and get nervous ... well, not nervous but I'm thinking a lot. I need to go out there and just calm down like [Peters] says all the time." 

On the early sack he gave up, Big V said he got set a little too wide, so for the rest of the game, he tried to stay tighter next to the guard. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles went into the game trying to give both tackles some extra help but especially on the left side, where Vaitai filled in for Peters, who had started every game since Wentz became the starter last year. 

"[Vaitai] settled into the game and did a nice job," Pederson said. "Again, I'll evaluate the film tomorrow and get a chance to make the necessary corrections. But I think, overall, he filled in well and we'll get him ready next week again."

The Eagles elected this week to keep Lane Johnson at right tackle and simply replace an injured Peters with Vaitai. Big V has played more on the right side than the left but said he is starting to feel comfortable on the left too.  

As for Walker, he's technically a starter now, but he won't be playing a ton down the stretch, at least by comparison. He'll be in the Eagles' base package, which is on the field for about 30 percent of the team's snaps. 

How did Walker think he played? 

"We'll go back, we'll review the tape and we'll see," he said. "I've got some stuff I need to work on definitely."

While Walker will be the odd man out when the Eagles go to their nickel package — Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks will be on the field in those situations — he did technically get the first start of his NFL career Sunday. 

That also meant getting announced and running out of the tunnel before the game. 

"Oh man, it was something I'll never forget," he said. "Just the energy from the crowd, the atmosphere, I'll never forget it."

No Jordan Hicks means Nigel Bradham wears 'green dot' responsibility

No Jordan Hicks means Nigel Bradham wears 'green dot' responsibility

With the loss of Jordan Hicks for the season, the Eagles are going to put more on the plate of Nigel Bradham. 

Well, at least more on his helmet. 

When they take the field against the 49ers on Sunday, Bradham's helmet will have that little green dot, indicating he'll be the one communicating with the Eagles' coaching staff. 

Big deal, right? 

"I mean, you hear something and you say it again," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Wednesday. "You could put a tape recorder out there and do it." 

But a tape recorder can't tackle. A tape recorder can't set the front. And a tape recorder sure as hell can't become a leader of men.

Bradham can. And the Eagles hope he will.  

While maybe folks shouldn't make too much of Bradham being the new communicator among the linebacker group after Hicks' Achilles injury, maybe there is something to be said about his overall new role in the defense. 

"In some things, he needs to be able to make calls and some things he doesn't," Schwartz continued. "He's done a good job with it. And his leadership is starting to show. He's spreading his wings that way a little bit. 

"He plays with a lot of energy on the field. But being in front of the huddle and being the communicator, I think you start to see that a little bit more from him.

"I don't want to minimize what that is. I don't want to put too much on it. I mean, having a green dot on your helmet doesn't make you a good player.

"But he's done a good job in that role. He's done it already this year. And he's going to have to stay in that mode."

Bradham has been pretty solid since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2016, but he's been even better over the last month of the season. He said he'll need to become much more vocal as the team rides out the rest of the season without Hicks. 

Without Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) on Monday night, the Eagles used Bradham, Najee Goode and Joe Walker for most of the game. 

The good news is that Kendricks will probably be back for Sunday's game against the 49ers. 

While the Eagles have three linebackers in their base package, they spend around 70 percent of their defensive snaps in nickel, which means Bradham and Kendricks will be the two linebackers on the field. The two of them didn't get much work together all offseason but have been since the start of the regular season while Hicks dealt with a couple different injuries before the big one that ended his season. 

"We feel good, man," Bradham said about playing with Kendricks. "We'll play hard, we'll communicate and we'll try to keep this thing going. We want to keep it rolling and keep this defense solid."

In January, unhappy with his lack of playing time, Kendricks asked for the Eagles to trade or release him. 

Good thing the Eagles didn't. Because without Hicks, Kendricks is going to have to play a huge role on the defense for the rest of the season, which the Eagles hope includes a deep run into the playoffs. 

"It's huge," Bradham said. "We all know Mych. Mych is a tremendous player. His athleticism is unbelievable and his ability to make plays. He's made plays in this league throughout his career. It's obvious and evident what he can do on the field. It's a blessing to have him, honestly."

When the Eagles are in their base defense, head coach Doug Pederson hinted that they'll use a combination of Goode and Walker to fill in at the MIKE position. Either way, Bradham will still be the one relaying information and making most of the calls on the field. He doesn't think it will be a problem doing that from his normal outside 'backer position. 

Bradham handled those extra duties for most of Monday's game and thought it all went well. That's why he thinks things will continue the same way come Sunday afternoon as the Eagles try to keep things going without Hicks. 

"I think we'll be OK," Goode said. "We still have Mychal and Nigel to rally around." 

Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

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Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

Eagles linebacker Joe Walker, who missed all of last year with a serious knee injury, has been voted by his teammates this year's Eagles recipient of the prestigious 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. 

Walker joins such hallowed names in Eagles history as Andre Waters, Kevin Turner, Correll Buckhalter, Chad Lewis and Jason Avant in receiving the award, given annually to a player on each team who shows a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage on and off the field.   

Walker, a seventh-round pick out of Oregon in 2016, suffered a knee injury the second week of training camp last summer but bounced back to make the 53-man roster this year and has played in all six games for the 5-1 Eagles.

With Jordan Hicks hurt in the second half Thursday night in Charlotte, Walker played a career-high 13 snaps on defense against the Panthers. He's played 53 special teams snaps this year.

Ed Block was the Colts’ trainer from 1954 through 1977 after earning a Purple Heart in the Army under General Patton in the tank corps in World War II.

The 32 Ed Block Courage Award winners will be honored at the annual Ed Block Courage banquet in Baltimore this spring.

For more information on the program, go to www.EdBlock.org.

Here is a list of all the Eagles’ Ed Block Courage Award winners since the inception of the program in 1984: 
 
2017     Joe Walker
2016     Nolan Carroll
2015     Fletcher Cox
2014     Jeremy Maclin
2013     Jason Kelce
2012     Colt Anderson
2011     Mike Patterson
2010     Jason Avant
2009     Michael Vick
2008     Jon Dorenbos
2007     Montae Reagor
2006     Jerome McDougle
2005     Chad Lewis
2004     Derrick Burgess
2003     Correll Buckhalter
2002     Shawn Barber
2001     Duce Staley & Tommy Brasher
2000     Cecil Martin
1999     Mike Mamula
1998     Bobby Taylor
1997     Rhett Hall
1996     Kevin Turner
1995     Charlie Garner
1994     Fred Barnett
1993     Andre Waters
1992     Jerome Brown
1991     David Alexander
1990     Ron Solt
1989     Mike Quick
1988     Wes Hopkins
1987     Gerry Feehery
1986     Jody Schultz
1985     Ron Jaworski
1984     John Spagnola