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Bradley Injury Tests Defense's Depth

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- This is what we know about the knee injury suffered by Stewart Bradley: He went down without contact and did not return to the Eagles Flight Night! practice. Reports surfaced on Monday that Bradley suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and would miss the season. Then a clearly angry Andy Reid, upset at the way the information for the reports was gathered, refused to address injuries during his post-practice press conference. And then a bunch of players talked to reporters, acknowledging that Bradley was injured, but not delving into specifics.

So ...

So on Monday the Eagles lined up with Joe Mays in the middle in the base defense, and with Omar Gaither and Akeem Jordan as the nickel linebackers. Until Bradley returns to the field -- whenever that is -- the Eagles have some challenges on defense. Not insurmountable challenges, but real ones. Bradley played outstanding football in 2008 and has been considered one of the league's up-and-coming linebackers. A season-ending kind of injury would most certainly be a setback.

NFL teams, though, don't sit around and cry about their misfortune. They find solutions. And with Bradley sidelined, the Eagles turned on Monday to Mays, the 240-pound block of granite who is a scud missile with cleats. Mays is a low-gravity, physical player who shined last year in the preseason to make the team as a sixth-round draft pick.

Mays didn't play a lick as a rookie, though. He went through the season on the active roster, he participated in every phase of work during the week -- practice, meetings, conditioning -- and then Mays fidgeted on the sidelines in all but two games. He dipped his toes in the water for two outings, playing on special teams, but for the most part Mays spent an entire year watching and waiting and learning.

That isn't the case now. Mays figures to be a critical piece in the middle of the defense as long as Bradley is sidelined, and that's fine with him.

"I've been waiting a year for this opportunity, to show what I can do," said Mays. "I understand the defense and the position and I have a lot of confidence in myself. I'm ready for this challenge."

So is the other part of the equation at linebacker, Omar Gaither. He started all 16 games at MIKE linebacker in 2007 and played well. The Eagles then made the switch to Bradley, a larger player with a longer wingspan who better fit the prototype of the position. Gaither went to WILL, started 10 games and then lost the position to Jordan.

In Monday's practice, Mays started in the base defense in the middle. When the Eagles went to nickel, bringing in a third cornerback and taking a linebacker off the field, Gaither joined Jordan at linebacker.

How it works out remains to be seen. The Eagles have some adjustments to make with more than five weeks to go before the September 13 opener in Carolina if, indeed, Bradley is gone for the season. They can use Mays in the "run" downs, and then insert Gaither -- better in coverage than Mays, at least from what we've seen -- in the more obvious passing situations.

The Eagles think they have good depth at linebacker, and that is certainly going to be tested. They are going to keep their eyes open, as usual, and see if they have a need at some point here in the summer.

No. 1, they are going to find out about Mays. That is the primary piece of the puzzle the Eagles must understand before they move forward. Mays was a tackling machine last year in the preseason games, and a lot of people were surprised he played so very little as a rookie. Now he is in line to prove himself.

Mays is a thickly-muscled young man who plays physical football. He is going to get in and disrupt things at the line of scrimmage in the running game. He is going to blow up some blockers with his style and his fearlessness. But can he cover in space? Can he call the signals? Can he read and recognize offenses and call out the right adjustments to his teammates?

There is a grand sense of the unknown with Mays, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Mays has talent. He has speed and skill. He likes to bust heads. You hope that one player's misfortune is another player's opportunity in this case.

Same with Gaither, wants to be the starting middle linebacker. He is a natural for the position with the way he plays with such desire and by the leadership he provides. Plus, Gaither happens to be a good player at the position. He runs well, covers extremely well and is physical at the line of scrimmage.

Bradley's absence means the Eagles are without a 260-pound player who runs fast enough and who has enough leverage and change of direction to cover sideline to sideline. Bradley played terrifically well in 2008 and took command of the defense. He entered training camp with sky-high hopes. An injury on a non-contact play changes everything for Bradley, and for the Eagles defense.

This is not the time to panic, though. That would be an insult to Mays and Gaither and the defensive coaching staff and the front office. The Eagles won't go into the season with a big hole at middle linebacker. They are going to learn a lot about Mays in the days to come. If they like what they see -- and they have so far -- Mays could be on his way in the right direction. If not, well, then we'll talk.

There is no "official" word on the severity of Bradley's injury. The buzz is strong, and the players seemed to think his injury was serious. But nobody is crying. You move on in the NFL, or you move out. The Eagles are in the business of finding solutions, not making excuses.

One week into training camp, and the Eagles could be facing a major loss. We'll see what happens next and how the team reacts.


  • Nothing new to report on Jeremy Maclin's contract status. Denver reportedly agreed to terms with Robert Ayers, the player picked immediately before Maclin. Everyone around Maclin, then, has come to terms or has signed a contract. This would seem like an easy finish, right? Things don't always work that way. There are escalators and incentives and nick-nacks in a deal that agents and teams haggle over. It is time for him to get in, of course. Maclin has missed enough time to be concerned.
  • Reggie Brown should be moving up the depth chart. I don't know if he is, but he sure has had a fine training camp to go along with a good spring. Brown has caught the ball with great consistency.
  • Good couple of days for defensive end Bryan Smith, who has come off the ball better and who really had a good hustle play on Monday when, in the 10-10-10 practice he tipped a pass and then scrambled down the line of scrimmage and nearly had an interception. Good stuff.
  • It appears to me that Dimitri Patterson is the lead guy for the fifth cornerback spot. Macho Harris could be the swing safety/cornerback on the roster, but he has to get back on the field. With a high ankle sprain, Harris still might be away for another good stretch of time.
  • Asante Samuel practiced for the first time on Monday and looked good. Great instincts, breaks on the ball so well and plays as well as anybody when the pass is in the air.
  • I like the idea of Todd Herremans at right tackle, with Nick Cole at left guard and Stacey Andrews at right guard should Shawn Andrews remain out for much longer. Then Nick Cole can be the top reserve and play either guard spot, and Mike McGlynn and Fenuki Tupou can add more depth. Winston Justice? I absolutely think he has improved at right tackle. I need to see him in a game environment before totally believing what I now see.
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