Nigel Bradham

Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

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Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

New Eagles linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is not your average midseason signing. This is a playmaker with eight years of NFL experience, and a starter for the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2012.

Ask any player in the Eagles’ locker room who knows Ellerbe or really studies defense, and they’ll tell you the same thing. This is not just any street free agent.

Ellerbe represents a huge upgrade for the Eagles.

“Dominant player from what I remember in Baltimore,” Eagles safety and former teammate Corey Graham said on Monday. “Running through linemen, very physical, very aggressive. Flat-out beast. We used to call him ‘Eller-beast.’

“When he was out there and when he was healthy, he’s a monster.”

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham even went so far as to liken the addition of Ellerbe to the club’s recent trade for Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi.

“It’s the same situation as when we got the running back,” Bradham said. “We’re just adding depth and trying to get stronger as a team as we’re keeping this thing going.”

Unlike Graham, Bradham never played alongside Ellerbe, nor had they so much as met each other before. But Bradham would tell you he “knows” Ellerbe very well from following his career with the Ravens, Dolphins and Saints.

“Linebackers know linebackers,” said Bradham, who added Ellerbe made a “key impact” in Baltimore’s last world championship. “We need him.”

There’s no question the Eagles could use the help at linebacker. Both Bradham and Mychal Kendricks have been spectacular, but depth became an issue after Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending injury.

Of course, if Ellerbe is the solution, why was he a free agent to begin with? Why is he now playing for his fourth NFL team? He turns 32 years old in a matter of weeks and has never earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl or any other notable accolades, so how good can he be?

Ellerbe’s issues are primarily injury-related. He played one game in 2014, six games in 2015 and nine games in 2016.

Most recently, Ellerbe missed time with a broken foot, which he says has been healed for quite awhile.

“I was healthy enough to play going into training camp,” Ellerbe said. “The whole time I’ve just been working out and getting in shape, staying in shape.”

Otherwise, there’s no denying he can contribute if he’s finally 100 percent. Undrafted out of Georgia in 2009, Ellerbe has started 42 NFL games, recording 368 tackles, 10½ sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also has 48 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in 10 playoff appearances.

“When he’s healthy, he’s very explosive, very smart,” said Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, another former teammate in Baltimore. “He understands defenses very well, and he can be a great playmaker for us.”

Bradham was willing to go out on a limb and predict Ellerbe would be successful for the Eagles.

“He’s going to have an impact,” Bradham said.

“For us following the game for some time, we’ve all seen him play. He’s a physical, hard-nosed linebacker. He has speed. He’s going to be a great addition for us, and he added depth. We’re even deeper now.”

As far as Ellerbe’s role, that is yet to be determined. For the time being, he isn’t locked in at middle or outside linebacker for the Eagles, though he’s primarily played weakside as a pro. He may not play at all initially.

The way Bradham and Kendricks are balling, there’s no need to force Ellerbe into the lineup, either.

And while Ellerbe says he hasn’t played special teams since he was with the Ravens in 2012, he’s ready to assist in whatever phase he’s called upon. There’s no concern about rust, despite not having practiced or seen game action since last December.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat out this long, but when you’re born to do something, you pick it back up real quick,” Ellerbe said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

The Eagles aren’t just getting a quality linebacker. Based on accounts from his former teammates, Ellerbe is a quality person as well. Smith called Ellerbe a “great addition to the locker room,” while Graham said the newcomer will fit right in.

With the Eagles’ record at 8-1, team chemistry seems almost as important as talent these days. Ellerbe checks off both boxes.

Free-agent additions this time of year typically amount to picking off the top of the trash heap, pure depth signings, or future stashes. It’s not often a team in the Eagles’ position is able to nab a player of this caliber.

Whether Ellerbe is the game-changer his teammates remember or his ability has eroded with time and injuries, one thing is for certain: The Eagles are leaving no stone unturned in 2017. Adding another motivated athlete with a championship pedigree can’t hurt.

Malcolm Jenkins expands already impressive versatility

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Malcolm Jenkins expands already impressive versatility

This season is Nigel Bradham's sixth in the NFL. 

He's never seen a player as versatile as Malcolm Jenkins. 

"Man, no!" Bradham said. "Not in my career. He's definitely the first. A guy that can play from corner to defensive end pretty much. Seriously. It's amazing, man."

Throughout his time in Philadelphia and in the league, Jenkins has played both safety spots, cornerback and nickel cornerback. On Sunday, Jenkins expanded his versatility even more, playing linebacker in the Eagles' dime package.  

It's not an entirely new position for Jenkins, but it is a little different. The biggest difference is that as a linebacker in the run game, Jenkins has to take on offensive linemen instead of tight ends and running backs. 

It can be tough to get off those blocks. 

"Nah, I get off of them fine," said the ever-confident Jenkins, wearing a smile. 

Over the last two seasons, the Eagles have talked a lot about the versatility they have in their secondary with guys who can play both safety and corner. There hasn't been much talk about safety-linebacker versatility, which defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called "old school." 

It's not uncommon for teams to use a hybrid safety-linebacker position or to want their safeties to have corner abilities. 

But having a player who can play safety, corner and linebacker? 

"It’s pretty rare to find guys that can do all three," Schwartz said. "Malcolm is one of them."

The Achilles injury to Jordan Hicks sort of opened the door to allow the Eagles to use that dime package a little bit more last week. Had Hicks been healthy, the team likely would have trotted out the nickel package with Hicks and Bradham. 

Jenkins isn't sure if that will be the plan every week; the packages will probably be decided based on matchups. But he was happy to play more in the box against the 49ers. 

"I was kind of whispering for it for a long time," he said. "You want to put your best guys on the field, even if it's sometimes a disadvantage in certain parts. I feel like we do such a good job stopping the run that when we do get to those third downs and run's really not an option, it's better for us to put another DB on the field."

Jaylen Watkins, who is a pretty versatile player himself, is impressed by Jenkins' versatility but not surprised. Like Bradham, Watkins thinks Jenkins can play just about every position on defense, including defensive end if they ever asked him. 

Watkins joked that he wasn't sure Jenkins would be big enough physically to handle playing end, but said the safety would at least know what to do even if he couldn't get it done. 

He wasn't surprised at all to see how well Jenkins acquitted himself as a linebacker. 

"With someone like Malcolm, he's going to study each play and know which guard he's getting," Watkins said. "He's never going into anything blind. That's why giving that job to him was probably a no-brainer for the coaches."

In this dime package, Jenkins has a few different responsibilities. If the opposing team runs the ball, he needs to turn into a linebacker and hit a gap. Other times, he'll be blitzing. And there are times he'll be covering running backs or tight ends. 

What makes Jenkins able to play all these positions is his rare combination of cover skills and toughness. 

"If you ask me about coverage, I think I'm a corner," he said. "If you ask me about run fits, I think I'm a linebacker. It's one of those things I always see it as a challenge."

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."