It was extremely obliging of Washington quarterback Mark Sanchez to throw an interceptable pass toward Eagles linebacker Nate Gerry on Monday night.
Gerry, the only linebacker with two good hands who the Eagles used that night, only played 11 defensive snaps, so Sanchez had to fit the ball into a fairly tight window, you might say. Kamu Grugier-Hill has been playing with a cast on his right hand since he broke his thumb in the Jacksonville game, in London on Oct. 28, and Nigel Bradham got the same thing for his left hand after breaking his thumb against the Giants on Nov. 25.
It was the first career interception for Gerry, a second-year converted safety from Nebraska. He is mainly a special-teams guy, but in the land of one-handed linebackers, the two-handed linebacker is king, or something.
“That’s how it is right now, that’s what happens when you get down to the end of the season, everybody’s banged up in some shape or form,” Gerry said.
Even before Grugier-Hill decided to make himself a focal point this week by opining in a TV interview about the Cowboys always choking, he was going to be part of the narrative leading up to Sunday’s game at Dallas. In the teams’ previous meeting, Nov. 11 at the Linc, Dak Prescott threw a pick-six quality ball to Grugier-Hill, deep in Dallas territory, near the sideline in front of the Cowboys’ bench. Grugier-Hill couldn’t get both hands around it, and a game-changing opportunity was lost, in what became a 27-20 Dallas victory.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz talked this week about how he didn’t really think the casts made his linebackers “one-handed,” but he offered a caveat.
“Some things are a little bit different. ... the last time, Kamu had a chance to get an interception, and probably without that cast – I mean, Kamu is a great athlete and has great hands – that might be a pick-six and might change that game,” Schwartz said.
This week after practice, Grugier-Hill wasn’t wearing a cast; you could see the scar from bye-week surgery, in which pins and a screw were inserted after he slammed his hand into Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles’ helmet while trying to knock the ball loose. Grugier-Hill said he has a brace for when he doesn’t have the cast on, but he feels he has healed to where he can often go without the brace.
Each game day, before warmups, the cast is fashioned. It takes five to 10 minutes to set, Grugier-Hill said. The NFL doesn’t limit the size of casts, but the outside has to be padded, with no cast material showing.
Bradham, whose injury is much fresher than Grugier-Hill’s, wears a cast all the time, but gets a new one before each game, he said.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, something different,” Bradham said Thursday. “Something I’m going to have to get used to, because it seems like I’m going to have to play with it the rest of the year.”
Grugier-Hill said he hopes to be able to play without a cast in two weeks.
About an hour before the game, the umpire from the officiating crew enters the training room, and a trainer gives him a “cast card” listing the jersey number of each player wearing a cast and the type of cast. As the players leave the locker room just before kickoff, the umpire checks each cast to make sure the padding is adequate, so the player can’t use the cast as a weapon.
“You can’t put anybody at risk out there,” Bradham said.
Both Grugier-Hill and Bradham continued to play in the games in which they suffered their fractures. The pain and swelling was considerable, but both players wanted to keep going. Schwartz said that as Grugier-Hill was getting a cast on his hand at halftime of the London game, the coaches got special-teams linebacker LeRoy Reynolds ready to take his place, but Grugier-Hill decided to play.
“When we put guys on the field, we feel like they can do their job,” Schwartz said. “Obviously, they're a little bit hindered, but that's the way it is in the NFL. They have enough use of their hand that they can wrap up and tackle. We wouldn't be comfortable putting a guy out there that we didn't think could do their job.”
Neither Bradham nor Grugier-Hill had ever played with a cast, they said. “It’s just been a burden, more than anything, having to deal with it,” Grugier-Hill said.
Bradham has said he was injured in a collision with a teammate, on the third play of the Giants game. He kept playing. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole said the first he knew of the injury was when he came up to Bradham on the sideline and saw that his left hand was too swollen to fit in his glove.
Bradham’s surgery the following day involved six pins and a plate. When he returned to practice, Grugier-Hill offered some advice, including how to angle his hand for the game cast to be made.
“I helped him out a little bit … just faster ways to get ready for practice, stuff like that,” Grugier-Hill said. “You want to cast your wrist back so you can ‘punch.’ Stuff like that.”
Grugier-Hill said the cast isn’t as big an impediment to tackling as one might think. “You don’t tackle with your thumb,” he said. “I can still grab; it’s not like my hand’s closed.”
Bradham didn’t have a bye week to recover -- he played against Washington a week after surgery.
“It’s tough,” Bradham said. “Just trying to get off blocks, being able to tackle. You pretty much use your hands every play.”
With middle linebacker Jordan Hicks sidelined with a calf injury since the New Orleans game, Bradham has been the defensive signal-caller, which makes it even more imperative that he play. There was talk that Hicks might return this week, but he has not practiced.