Stewart Bradley was in on a players' day off to "get a lift on." There is really no down time for Bradley, who is clearly having the time of his professional life. He is in his second NFL season, has earned the starting job at middle linebacker and is coming off an eye-opening performance as the Eagles trampled the Rams on Sunday.
"I'm staying busy. Last year, I was just trying to keep up," said Bradley. "Now, I understand the pace of things and I know what I need to do to prepare the right way for games and for the long season."
Bradley's first game was quite a performance. After defensive coordinator Jim Johnson reviewed the game tape, Bradley was credited with 13 total tackles, a quarterback sack and a tackle for loss. He was, said Johnson, "outstanding." Bradley handled the mental part of things just as flawlessly as he handled the physical side.
As things are in this league, of course, Bradley isn't resting on the laurels of Game 1. Dallas is a different beast entirely, with a great set of skill-position players, outstanding balance in the run/pass game and a big, strong offensive line. The challenge ahead is a great one, because the Cowboys are so varied and so explosive that they leave most defenses guessing and scrambling for answers.
So as much as we like about Bradley, we're going to learn a whole lot more on Monday night. At 255 pounds, he has the bulk to play inside, and he has the wheels in coverage and to get to the edges in the running game, but Dallas' massive interior linemen tend to swallow up linebackers.
Bradley has to stay clean, find the ball and make plays.
"I'm only in my second season, but I feel so comfortable with my assignments and I trust Jim's calls and his concepts completely," said Bradley. "He is such a great teacher. I know not just my responsibilities, but also the entire defense. I understand what Jim is trying to do when he makes a call. It's coming along. There is always room for improvement. I know what. I get that. I'm just working hard, being critical of myself and trying to improve every day."
It is far, far too early to proclaim Bradley as "the next great Eagles middle linebacker," and nobody in their right mind would do that. The position is sacred in franchise history, with the likes of Chuck Bednarik, Bill Bergey and Jeremiah Trotter among those names at the top of the list. Bradley is a gifted, eager, intelligent kid who is anchoring one of the youngest groups of linebackers in the league and, certainly, in team history.
Youth is an asset in this case. The linebackers shined on Sunday, led by Bradley. The hope is that the best is yet to come.
"We're all tight and we're pulling for each other," said Bradley. "We all want to put in the hard work and stay together and get better. That's all you can do. This is fun. We all love football. Hey, we're all just playing football."
Still in the infant stages of the position, Bradley is taking the right approach to his job. He takes extra reps in practice. He spents his day off at the NovaCare Complex working out, watching film, studying with Johnson and honing his craft.
These are heady days, indeed. Drafted in April, 2007, Bradley has the right size and ability to play both the strong side and the middle linebacker positions. The Eagles gave him the cameo look last season and Bradley made enough plays against the Saints to give the Eagles the confidence to let Takeo Spikes go free and move Omar Gaither to the weak side and install Bradley in the middle.
And here he is, learning day by day.
"Dallas has a great team and we have our work cut out for us," he said. "It's a challenge. I like challenges."