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Bradley Return To Make Huge Impact

MLB Bradley Is A Much Needed Upgrade

By Lance Epstein

From the start of training camp when starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley went down with a torn his ACL until the season ending loss in Dallas, the Eagles were playing musical chairs at one of the most significant positions on the defense, middle linebacker.

During the course of the season, Philadelphia went through six different starting middle linebackers: Omar Gaither, Will Witherspoon, Akeem Jordan, Chris Gocong, Tracy White and Jeremiah Trotter. As expected, none of them were even remotely close to the talent of Bradley nor could fill the big shoes he left behind.

Furthermore, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was forced to change his linebacker unit 11 times in total last season due to injuries and ineffectiveness. At one point you wondered if the organization was going to try and convince Mike Singletary to come out of coaching to play or if Hall of Famer Chuck Bednairk would come of retirement.

“We're excited to have him back (Bradley),” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said after the season came to a conclusion. “Look at what we had on the field compared to what we started with.”

While Bradley is not a household name, his 6-foot-4-inche, 255-pound frame might have been a bigger loss to the team last year than the departed Brian Dawkins. Heading into the 2009, SI's Senior NFL columnist Peter King raved about Bradley's game and even put him on his 2008 All-Pro team in his first season as a starter.

"My pick alongside Lewis (Ray): precocious second-year man Stewart Bradley of Philadelphia, the ideal sideline-to-sideline rover for defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's unpredictable scheme. Bradley is 25 and relatively unknown, and his club can't prosper without him -- a perfect fit on my 2008 team," King wrote.

Furthermore, he beat out such star players as Brian Urlacher and Jon Beason to make King’s All-Pro team. Speaking of Brian Urlacher, former Eagles defensive tackle and fullback Dan Klecko said Bradley reminded him of Urlacher and beleives he soon will become one of the best middle linebackers in the game.

“I think in a couple years Stewart will be one of the best middle linebackers in the league, if he isn’t already,” said Dan Klecko. “I think he’ll be up there, almost like an Urlacher.”

Before the injury cost him his 2009 season, King again rang the bell for Bradley. He spoke even more highly of the Eagles young linebacker.

"Stewart Bradley, the invisible Philly middle linebacker, is among the five underrated really good players in the NFL,” King Said. "Nobody is better at stopping the run game than Stewart Bradley."

Those are pretty high distinctions for a player that has only played in 16 games as a starter and suited up in a mere 32 games.

However, all those accolades are correct because he can be that great. From the time he took over the reigns from the incumbent middle linebacker Gaither, he just got better each and every week. In the beginning of the 2008 season, the Eagles’ defense was average and struggling to find an identity. But after an embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he and the defense cranked it up.

“There was a point in the season that you can see that he really began to take off with that position,” Former Eagles and now Denver Bronco Dawkins said of his transformation during the 2008 season. “He really began to own (the spot) and play with a different aggression and different temperament at that position.

“There was a point in this season (2008) that you looked at him and, when he called attention to the huddle, ‘You know what? Let me be quiet and listen to Stew because he has something to say.’ That's a big thing, to finally get that type of respect.”

Ultimately the team finished as the third-ranked defense in the NFL. Certainly Bradley had a huge impact on the defense, which developed into one of the best in Andy Reid's era as head coach. He began recognizing opponent’s plays before the ball was snapped. Bradley also eliminated the opposition’s tight ends such as Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Visanthe Shiancoe.

Moreover, in the playoffs he stepped his game up to a whole new level. In three post-season games, he combined for 26 tackles and was always around the ball. Yet none of the tackles were more important than his two consecutive stops against Giants' massive running back Brandon Jacobs on 3rd/4th and 1 late in the fourth quarter. Those two tackles sealed the Eagles’ victory over the top seeded New York Giants and gave the team a berth in the NFC Championship Game.

Of course there are some concerns with him because he is return from his second torn ACL. In spite of this, fans should not worry because he is one of the hardest working players in the NFL.

If you do not believe he has the passion to get back or comeback as the player everyone expected him to be then just ask rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram. Ingram has had the pleasure of working out all year with Bradley since he is coming both were coming back from a torn ACLs.

"He's one of those guys that's passionate and competitive with everything that he does," Ingram said. "He's like, 'Come on, let's get some extra reps.' I'm like, 'Stew, I just told you I'm dead tired.' And he'll be like, 'Come on, let's do one more set.' "

Not only is Bradley working his tail off to make a difference in 2010, he got a nice compliment from his workout buddy/rival in the workout room Olympics. Ingram compared his competitiveness and drive to win to his former teammate and draft prospect Tim Tebow.

So what did Bradley have to say about Ingram's comments on his competitive streak in the friendly rivalry between the two?

"He was the victim of many of my competitions," said Bradley. "I can be competitive to a fault. I've had girlfriends get mad at me for being too competitive about even dorky stuff."

While most of us would be depressed by not getting to do what we love for an entire year, Bradley did not complain. Instead he made the best of a bad situation in hopes that he will come back stronger (physically and mentally) than he was before his horrifying injury.

"If you approach it like, 'OK, this sucks, this is a drag, I want to be playing,' then it can really hamper you and you can be behind," Bradley said. "But if you take it as an opportunity, you can come back as a better player – bigger and stronger."

Still, Bradley competitiveness and drive might pay off big dividends for both him and Ingram in 2010. Their friendship and aggressive workout routine makes the team chemistry and their individual abilities that much better.

Although the most important thing is that Bradley makes the Eagles defense better by just being on the field. He knows the defensive philosophy and is the team’s signal caller. Moreover, he is the leader in the middle. He can shed blockers and stop opposing running backs in their tracks.

Additionally, when healthy, Bradley has demonstrated that he can play pass-coverage and blow-up screen passes, which ultimately doomed the Eagles down the stretch and all last year.

Nevertheless there is a strong chance that both players are going to be participating in the post-draft minicamps that are coming up in May. Still, Bradley knows that is nothing like running out of the tunnel on Sundays wearing the midnight green uniform with No. 55 on it and punishing opponents.

"It sucks. It's the worst," Bradley said about watching the games from the sidelines or on T.V. on Sundays. "There's no antidote for that."



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