Shaun Bradley saw it all happening in his mind as he ran down the field to cover an Arryn Siposs punt early in the second quarter of Sunday's win in Denver. He came clean off the line of scrimmage, worked his way through a cadre of Broncos blockers, and saw Diontae Spencer catch the football at the 20-yard line. After that, it was pure joy – Bradley closed from Spencer's right side, running parallel to the 25-yard line, and then No. 54 delivered the perfect form tackle.
He got all of Spencer, who went down in a rush. Clean hit in the open field. Just like you dream. Bradley leaped to his feet and let out a whoop and a shimmy, gathered in the congratulations from his teammates, and went back to the sidelines, another big special teams play in his ledger.
Oh, what a feeling!
"It was like a kid at the candy store, man," Bradley said on Wednesday as the Eagles prepared for their walkthrough practice at the NovaCare Complex ahead of Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field against New Orleans. "Honestly, I was running down there and as I was running down there he (Spencer) started running straight and in my head I'm thinking, 'He doesn't see me.' Normally, I give a slight breakdown and angle up where I'm about to run but this time I said to myself, 'I'm going to shoot it. I'm going to shoot it full speed and I'm not going to stop.' He started to juke and then he settled down because T.J. (Edwards) caught his eye and my eyes lit up.
"I hit him and a surge of energy went through my body. It hurt, but oh my goodness, it felt good. I did my little thing after the tackle and it was great."
In his second NFL season after the Eagles made him a sixth-round draft pick from Temple, Bradley – who was raised in South Jersey and attended Rancocas Valley High School – has aspirations to be a three-down linebacker in this league and he is working hard toward that goal. Bradley is part of a young and emerging linebacker corps and has played 28 snaps in the defense this season. In the meantime, he's making his mark on special teams, ranking tied for first in the NFC and tied for second in the NFL with 10 tackles in the kicking game.
Additionally, Bradley played key roles in two of the season's biggest plays – the blocked punt in Carolina on which Bradley beat the long snapper and then occupied the personal protector as Edwards made the block that Bradley recovered, and Sunday's blocked field goal in Denver that K'Von Wallace reached with the help of Bradley again occupying multiple blockers – as the special teams delivered at key times. Bradley has been front and center in the special teams' relentless and weekly assault.
"To play this game, you've got to have some sort of edge to you. And Shaun has that edge," Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay said. "Obviously, he's born and raised around here. We really rely on Shaun because he does bring great energy every day. Shaun is the same person every day. And just having conversations with him throughout the offseason and preseason and just seeing the athletic ability, I mean, you saw on that punt coverage rep, he ate up a lot of ground real fast and he had a good hit on the returner.
"Shaun's just been outstanding, and he wants to be great at whatever we ask him to do on special teams. And he's been doing a heck of a job for us. Obviously, he's tied in the NFC for the most special teams tackles. And he takes pride in that. He wants to do it. He wants to go out there. He wants to make plays.
"But the best thing about Shaun is he's not getting outside of his own body to get these plays. He's doing everything we ask. He's staying disciplined. He's just getting out there and making a heck of a play in the coverage and the blocking phases. So, it's all kudos to Shaun, really, taking advantage of this role that he has. And he's one of those guys that we're going to rely on for this stretch right here and I think he's up for the challenge."
Bradley has a reputation now and he knows that the Saints have pointed him out in their special teams meetings this week. No. 54. It's been circled. New Orleans wants to take him out of the equation in the kicking game on Sunday.
And that, in itself, is pretty cool for a second-year player who has boundless energy that permeates the locker room.
"It's exciting and it's funny because I've been talking with one of their players, a good friend of mine, and he was like, 'We're going to do this to you this week.' It's fun and it's something that makes you feel good, but this is the NFL, and you have to do it every week," Bradley said. "Look, I want to win more than anything and that's all that matters to me. I would cancel all the stats if I could and I'm sure everyone in the league feels the same way. But it was one of my goals this year, to get as many tackles as I can on special teams. I'm going to keep working. I'm going to keep pushing.
"I'm here to do whatever it takes to help us win football games and we're just getting started. It's fun out there. We want to change the game on special teams any way we can. That's our goal every week."