Jim Washburn rarely holds back.
Through two-and-a-half days of training camp at Lehigh, the Eagles defensive line coach has been as vocal as ever. The fact that there are probably only two defensive linemen here (Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry) who will make the roster doesn’t matter to him. He prides himself on being able to motivate everyone – from Pro Bowlers like Trent Cole to undrafted free agents.
But when Brandon Graham steps onto the field later this week, Washburn is pretty sure motivation won’t be an issue.
“He doesn’t need Vinny Curry to motivate him,” Washburn said, referring to the fact that the Eagles spent a second-round pick on another defensive end. “He’s got everything to motivate him. He’s been beat down. That’s the way it goes, right? You’re a first-round draft choice. You don’t produce great the first year. The guy up north [Jason Pierre-Paul] playing his ass off. People throw that in his face all the time. Somebody said, ‘You gonna pimp him to death?’ I said uh-uh. I don’t have to. I don’t need to.”
In his rookie season, Graham appeared in 13 games. The numbers didn’t blow anyone away, although to say he wasn’t productive at all would be off-base. Graham had three sacks, but finished second on the team with 13 hurries. It’s easy to forget now, but Pierre-Paul had 4.5 sacks as a rookie before exploding onto the scene with 16.5 last year.
After suffering a torn ACL near the end of his rookie season, Graham’s sophomore campaign didn’t go according to plan. He battled weight issues and only appeared in three games.
“I think he’s like all of us, when you suffer setbacks in your life at 21, 22 years old, it’s hard. Try to remember when you’re that age,” Washburn said. “He was the stud, and all of a sudden he goes to not being a part of the team, not playing. When you’re rehabbing, sometimes you pick up weight. He has a tendency to get a little heavy. He looks good, and every time I heard weight room, something he did, I’m happy for him, and I can’t imagine him not having a really good year in camp.”
As Tim chronicled in June, Graham has admitted that last year was tough for him, but he’s now motivated, looking to silence any talk about him being a bust.
He still has plenty of work to do, though. The Eagles are deep at defensive end. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are in place as the starters. They spent a second-round pick on Curry. Darryl Tapp will be in the mix as a reserve. And 26-year-old Phillip Hunt showed flashes of pass-rushing ability in 2011.
Washburn knows all of that. And he knows Graham still has to prove himself. You get the sense he doesn’t want to be the guy to put monstrous expectations on the former first-round pick. Ask Washburn about Cole, and he’ll tell you he’s the most complete defensive end he’s ever coached. Ask him about Antonio Dixon, and he’ll tell you he’s excited about what he’ll bring to the defensive tackle rotation. Cox? Washburn says he’ll contribute right away.
But with Graham, he wants to wait and see. Washburn’s looking for the player who had 9.5 sacks as a senior at Michigan and led the nation with 25 tackles for loss. The guy who is now healthy, motivated and ready to thrive in his attacking system. Focused on putting a scare into opposing quarterbacks, and really, little else.
We’ll find out in the coming weeks and months whether he’s able to find him.
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