Watch linebacker Nigel Bradham closely on Sunday, and you’ll notice a lime green dot on the back of his helmet. It’s been on the back of his helmet three times this season – only when Jordan Hicks was sidelined in games. With Hicks out for the year because of a torn Achilles tendon, Bradham will have that dot on the back of his helmet going forward. It means he’s wearing the headset on defense.
By wearing the headset, Bradham will relay the play call from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to the other defensive players, which is usually Hicks’ role. He’ll help position the defense, too. It’s an important job that requires leadership and communication. Schwartz didn’t want to overstate the difficulty of it, though.
“It’s not like there’s calculators and protractors and everything else that’s required for that,” Schwartz said. “I mean, you hear something and you say it again. You could put a tape recorder out there and do it. …He’s done a good job with it. And his leadership is starting to show. He’s spreading his wings that way a little bit. He plays with a lot of energy on the field. But being in front of the huddle and being the communicator, I think you start to see that a little bit more from him.”
Bradham will take over Hicks’ spot in the nickel defense, when two linebackers are on the field. In that formation, he’ll play next to Mychal Kendricks. He will remain the strongside linebacker in the base three-linebacker formation, with Najee Goode or Joe Walker taking over for Hicks as the middle linebacker. But the Eagles will have Bradham continue to wear the headset because he’ll play all three downs and the Eagles won’t need to change helmets.
Greg Delimitros, the Eagles’ director of football equipment operations, has different helmets ready if the Eagles needed to adjust. In the Carolina game, when both Hicks and Bradham were absent for a period, he had a helmet ready for Najee Goode. Only one player can wear a helmet with a headset at a time, and it’s identified by the lime green sticker on the back. The other alternative is using hand signals.
The middle linebacker usually makes the calls. Any player could theoretically wear the helmet, but the middle linebacker is often the quarterback of the defense. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, a defensive captain, said it was “a little hectic” for Bradham the first time he tried communicating everything to the defensive line and the secondary. Jenkins was impressed with how Bradham handled it on Monday. He said there were no miscommunications and Bradham is becoming more comfortable in that role.
“It just goes from Jordan to Nigel,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, a defensive captain. “I’ve been in situations before where I have to have the headset. Although it’s fun for me, I don’t see me having it. I just think it goes to Nigel depending on the package. If Nigel’s on the field for most part of the game, Nigel will have the headset. The only way I can see myself have it is if we were going to live in dime or something like that for a game. I don’t anticipate that.”
In addition to relaying the play call, that player is often responsible for making calls to help align the defense against the offense’s formation. The Eagles rely on communication throughout the defense, so it doesn’t just fall upon one person. Jenkins and Rodney McLeod help set up the secondary. The defensive linemen could make calls among each other. So even though the linebackers are in the middle and Bradham will take on increased responsibilities, Schwartz suggested that it’ll be on more than Bradham.
“It’s always fell to all 11 guys on defense,” Schwartz said. “Any package we’re in we’ll have someone who is a lead play caller or a lead defensive caller. But it might be different in a lot of different packages that we have.”
Bradham, who has excelled for the Eagles in recent weeks, is welcoming the new responsibilities. He’s had experience in those three games Hicks left, and he knows the defense well. It’s his second year with the Eagles and third year in Schwartz’s scheme. When the huddle breaks, Bradham will still go to his spot on the tight end’s side and will have a vantage point of the opposing formation. He didn’t think wearing the headset as an outside linebacker in the base defense would be an adjustment. He’ll make the call as he walks to his spot.
“We’ve just got to keep our chemistry going,” Bradham said.
But the job is significant. The Eagles rostered Stephen Tulloch as a backup linebacker last year even though he didn’t have special-teams responsibilities in case something happened to Hicks. Bradham earned the trust to wear the headset this season.
“I don’t want to minimize what that is. I don’t want to put too much on it,” Schwartz said. “Having a green dot on your helmet doesn’t make you a good player. But he’s done a good job in that role. He’s done it already this year. And he’s going to have to stay in that mode.”