Nigel Bradham

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

Jordan Hicks is back after missing much of the previous season with an injury, but his return helped push Mychal Kendricks out the door.

Kendricks was released and signed with the Browns. Hicks is working his way back from a major injury. Did the 2018 Eagles linebackers take a step forward as a result of the swap, or gamble breaking up a dynamic Super Bowl-winning tandem?

Better

Playmaking

Kendricks enjoyed a resurgent season in 2017, coming off the bench and performing serviceably in his enhanced role after Hicks’ injury. Yet, the big plays were largely absent from the Eagles’ linebacker corps as a result of the switch. Kendricks recorded zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recoveries, including playoffs.

That’s unlikely to be the case with Hicks, as long as he’s healthy. The Eagles’ middle linebacker showed a knack for coming up with big plays his first two seasons, racking up seven interceptions, one forced fumble and five recoveries.

Hicks is attempting to recover from a ruptured Achilles, so there’s always a chance he’s slowed by the injury or not quite 100 percent when the season begins. Then again, he’s so much more of an instinctive player than Kendricks, even losing a step, Hicks is likely to wind up with the football in his hands more frequently. It may be only a handful of plays, but those are the ones that swing the outcomes of games.

Worse

Pass rushing

One area where Kendricks might be superior to Hicks is behind the line of scrimmage. Kendricks’ 2.0 sacks in ’17 match Hicks’ career total, and he has 14.0 in six years. Kendricks also graded as the most productive pass-rushing 4-3 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus with 13 total pressures in 49 blitz attempts.

Of course, therein lies one of the problems with Kendricks’ ability. Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Eagles don’t really make full use of his elite athleticism, often preferring to rush four rather than send the house.

It’s difficult to gauge how much of a loss Kendricks’ speed off the edge will be considering he was in line to play about 25 percent of the snaps if he stuck around. Regardless, his departure creates a void in that role.

The same

Nigel Bradham

At least the Eagles managed to retain reliable Bradham, who was their biggest priority in free agency this offseason. A case could be made the seventh-year veteran is the team’s best linebacker, too — not injury-prone, like Hicks, but consistent and always plays under control, unlike Kendricks.

Bradham will miss opening night due to a one-game suspension for an off-field incident, but when he returns, the Eagles have a reliable defender who can play strongside — his natural position — or in the middle. The seventh-year player posted 205 tackles, 3.0 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles in two seasons with the club.

The unknown

Weakside linebacker

Kendricks’ departure does create a void at weakside linebacker, and it’s currently unclear who the Eagles will choose to fill it. Corey Nelson was signed away from the Broncos in free agency, but played special teams for most of his four seasons there. Special teams ace Kamu Grugier-Hill and 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Gerry are also in the mix, and even more unproven than Nelson.

Fortunately, the weakside spot is only on the field roughly a quarter of the time, so it’s not the biggest of holes. It was also a job in which Kendricks didn’t particularly excel.

Better or worse?

Given Kendricks’ struggles in the weakside spot in previous years, how Nelson or the competition will fare probably isn’t the greatest of concerns. The top two linebacker spots are what matter most here, and getting Hicks back is a huge boost. Kendricks does a few things very well, but is more of a liability in coverage, and the Eagles’ lack of urgency to use his ability to attack made him a poor fit. The linebackers may be only marginally improved given their depth is still a question mark, but Hicks is an upgrade. BETTER

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Nigel Bradham suspended for 1st game of 2018 season

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Nigel Bradham suspended for 1st game of 2018 season

Nigel Bradham, the Eagles’ solid and consistent veteran linebacker, has been suspended by the NFL for one game and will miss the opener against the Falcons.

“Nigel Bradham of the Philadelphia Eagles has been suspended without pay for the first game of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy," an NFL spokesperson said in a statement. "Bradham will be eligible to return to the Eagles’ active roster on Friday, September 7 following the team’s September 6 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Bradham is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.”

Bradham apologized in a tweet and said he was suspended for the incident in July 2016 in which he was charged in an altercation with a hotel employee in the South Beach section of Miami. Those charges were eventually dropped.

“We have been in contact with Nigel and the NFL regarding his suspension," the Eagles said in a statement. "We respect the league’s decision on this matter and we are disappointed that Nigel put himself in this position. Nigel has taken responsibility and expressed to us through his words and actions that he has learned from his mistake. We will continue to be supportive of him throughout this process.”

The Eagles open the 2018 regular season at the Linc on Sept. 6 against the Falcons.

The Eagles are already thin at linebacker following the release of Mychal Kendricks and a season-ending injury in OTAs to Paul Worrilow.

These moves leave the Eagles with few options alongside Jordan Hicks, who is coming off a season-ending injury of his own.

Nate Gerry, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Corey Nelson are among those expected to battle for roster spots at linebacker during training camp.

Bradham was charged in two incidents in Miami in 2016, one the altercation with a hotel employee in South Beach that July and the other when he tried to bring a gun through security at Miami International Airport.  

This is the second time the Eagles will be without a starting linebacker in a season opener against the Falcons immediately following the Super Bowl.

In 2005, Jeremiah Trotter was ejected from the season opener against the Falcons following a pregame fight at midfield of the Georgia Dome that also involved Falcons linebacker Ike Reese.

Mike Labinjo wound up starting that game for the Eagles, a 14-10 loss.

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Nigel Bradham aims to fix one obvious flaw in his game

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Nigel Bradham aims to fix one obvious flaw in his game

The Eagles wouldn’t have won their first-ever Super Bowl without Nigel Bradham. 

Let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. He was a huge piece of Jim Schwartz’s defense and took on an even bigger role when Jordan Hicks was lost for the season with an Achilles tear. From then, he took over headset duties, which was very important. 

But after singing his praises last week, Schwartz did bring up the one thing that Bradham really needs to improve. 

“I think the No. 1 thing that we'd like to see him do a little bit, and the thing is, he's got really good hands, but he needs to finish more of the plays that he could have made for us,” Schwartz said. 

Yeah, he does. 

Bradham agreed. The 28-year-old signed a new contract this offseason to stay with the Eagles, but he might have earned himself even more money if he just would have held onto the ball in 2017. 

In his six-year career, Bradham has just two interceptions — one in 2014 and one in 2016. But when we went back and watched his film from last season, he left at least four interceptions on the field. 

This first missed opportunity came really early in the 2017 season, long before we knew the Eagles were a Super Bowl-caliber team. In fact, it came at the 12:49 mark of the first quarter in the season opener in Washington. The shame of it is that Bradham played this perfectly, dropping about eight yards into coverage and stepping in front of Terrelle Pryor. 

It was third down, so it was still a good play and the Eagles got the ball back after a punt. But this early in the scoreless game, it was a wasted chance to really flip the field. 

This next one came at the 9:42 mark in the second quarter of the Eagles’ huge Week 14 game against the Rams in Los Angeles. The Eagles won the game to clinch the division, but Bradham missed two chances. 

This first one came on a 1st-and-5 from the Eagles’ 6-yard line. Bradham made a great play to backpedal into the throwing lane. It wasn’t a complete gimme, but this is a huge play if he makes it. Because he didn’t, the Rams scored a touchdown two plays later. 

This is the second possible interception Bradham couldn’t bring in against the Rams and it actually happened a little later in the second quarter, at the 2:56 mark to be exact. 

Another one that’s not a complete gimme because he’s moving backward, but this one goes right through Bradham’s hands. 

This one ultimately didn’t matter either, but man, it had to hurt for Bradham to drop this one. And at the time, it looked like it would matter. This play came on 1st-and-10 with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were clinging to a 34-29 lead against the lowly Giants. Eventually, the Eagles forced a turnover on downs to basically end the game, but this would have added an exclamation point because Bradham would have walked into the end zone for his first career pick-six. 

It’s good that Bradham knows there’s a pretty obvious flaw in his game. That’s the first step. 

So how does Bradham plan on correcting the problem? 

“Just continuing to work, repetition, staying on the JUGS,” he said. “Just continuing to stay at it. Looking the ball in. I think that was the main thing for me last year, just looking downfield before I caught the ball. Going back and looking at the tape and just trying to correct that. Just get those corrections, man, because I have to have those picks.”