Cornerback Bradley Fletcher was signed by the Eagles during the 2013 offseason to relatively little fanfare, but his acquisition could prove the epitome of a low-risk, high-reward investment. The fifth-year pro has been entrenched as the outside starter opposite fellow free agent signing Cary Williams on the first-team defense and will be relied upon as a key piece of the team's revamped secondary.
Fletcher spent the first four years of his career in St. Louis with the Rams, who selected him in the third round (66th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Iowa. At time in St. Louis, he flashed moments of brilliance, but also struggled with an assortment of injuries. He had an excellent 2010 campaign with 91 total tackles (58 solo), 11 pass breakups and four interceptions, and appeared on the cusp of joining the league's upper echelon of cornerbacks.
Unfortunately, Fletcher tore the ACL in his right knee during a practice before the team's fifth game of the 2011 season. It was the same ACL he tore, along with his MCL, as a rookie in 2009. Fletcher rehabbed and returned to start the first seven games of the 2012 season under new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. He played well – intercepting a pass and allowing just 16 completions on 34 attempts for 138 yards and a single touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus – but fell out of favor with the coaching staff after a rough performance against the New England Patriots in Week 8, in which he was flagged for three pass interference penalties.
With a fresh start in Philadelphia, Fletcher is determined and hungry to prove himself. So far, so good, as he been a consistent, physical, sure-tackling presence providing sticky coverage through the first two preseason games. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has taken notice and appreciates what Fletcher brings to the table.
"He's steady," Davis said of Fletcher. "He's steady, he's consistent. Every day he shows up to work. It's not flashy, but he's been very consistent is the best way to put it, a real pro."
"That's what it's been," Fletcher responded when told of Davis' comment. "I'm going to give you the same – I'm always going to compete. I'm always going to tackle for you. I'm going to run to the ball. That comes from me every game."
The Eagles are hoping that Fletcher's workmanlike approach and steady, solid play rubs off on the rest of the secondary and defense as a whole. The unit has improved a considerable amount in a short period of time and is starting to come together as it installs more sophisticated concepts in preparation for the regular season. Saturday night's game against Jacksonville, the so-called "dress rehearsal" for NFL teams, provides yet another opportunity for the secondary and defense as a whole to take the next step in their development.
"From where we were in OTAs and minicamps during the offseason, we've come a long way to this point now," Fletcher said."We're jelling as far as a defense. We're becoming more detailed in our secondary, and we're going to put those efforts out on the field in this coming game against Jacksonville."
Fletcher saw the progress from the first games against the New England Patriots and second game against the Carolina Panthers. For a defense that is undoubtedly making strides, it has still yet to force a turnover. Players in the secondary had potential interceptions in their grasp against quarterback Cam Newton on a few occasions, but ultimately failed to hold onto the ball. Though Fletcher feels like the unit is getting closer and closer to breaking through, he acknowledged he and his teammates have to start capitalizing on their chances – and that they will.
"We have to make more plays in our secondary," Fletcher said. "That's what we're trying to do this coming weekend. … Staying in coverage, going and making the play. Getting to the ball is a split-second type of thing, and we're going to be able to make those plays. We're going to make those plays."
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