At the very beginning of Training Camp 2010, when Brandon Graham was brand new to the scene and the possibilities were endless, he emerged from the training facility at Lehigh University and was greeted by a large group of reporters lining either side of the walkway.
A wide grin on his face, Graham treated it almost like a receiving line, and shook hands (or even hugged) each member of the media as he made his way to the parking lot.
When a reporter commented that his reaction was different than most, Graham responded, “I’m going to do things differently.”
The scene on Thursday stood in sharp contrast to the one that unfolded some four years ago. Following practice at the NovaCare, a number of media members were hanging out in one of the hallways when Graham walked out of the weight room and towards the exit. As the throng followed him out Graham continued to walk, yelling back with a smile on his face, "I can't. Y'all are going to get me in trouble."
Eventually he was surrounded, and relented.
Now 26 and entering his fifth season in the NFL, Graham has reached a pivotal point in his career. He is in a contract year. The more he produces, the more attractive he becomes -- whether it be to the Eagles or other potential suitors across the league. There was some question as to whether Graham was going to change addresses this offseason. Some in his camp were hopeful that he would be heading to a team that ran a 4-3 defense and there was some buzz about a potential trade, but nothing came to fruition.
Did Graham ever talk to Chip about it?
"No, no. I don't talk about it because it's not my place," he said. "I feel like they want me here because I'm still here. All the rumors or whatever it is, that's just rumors. But you know, if that was something that they wanted to do, I would have been gone."
With Graham still in Eagle green, the question becomes: how does he fit? At Thursday's practice he was running with the second team at right outside linebacker behind Trent Cole, while first-round pick Marcus Smith played LOLB with the third team. There's no reason Graham can't be part of Billy Davis' rotation, especially while Smith gets a acclimated to the NFL. During the first year of his transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, he played just 27 percent of the snaps per Pro Football Focus and finished with four sacks and 18 hurries.
"I think he obviously has the skill set to rush the passer and set the edge. And when he's been in there, he's been productive. The issue is that the other guy's really productive, too," said Kelly.
"How many times can you get them all on the field together? If you put Brandon in, do you take Trent out; if you put Brandon in, do you take Connor out? It's really the pecking order. I think both our depth at outside linebacker, we've added to it by adding Marcus Smith and Bryan Braman. But I feel confident we're better at that position right now than we were a year ago because of who we added."
Besides being more familiar with the system, Graham believes he's poised for a bigger year because he has his weight where it's supposed to be -- at around 265. "Last year I was really dealing with weight issues," he allowed. "This year it hasn't really been a problem. I'm able to move around a lot better. I know the defense, I know what he's looking for in practice. I've just been excited the whole year, just trying to show him that with a year under my belt I can show you that I can take it to another level."
Graham said he didn't have any negative reaction to Smith being drafted and welcomed the competition. It wasn't that long ago when he was the new pass rusher on the block with a bright future in Philly ahead. Things haven't gone exactly according to plan, and maybe he's not as innocent when it comes to the media and other aspects of the league anymore, but the optimism and the smile remain intact.
"I feel good, man. I feel like I can adjust to anything," he said. "And this year I'm more fast-paced because I know the defense. And I just want to show those guys that I really want to be here because I love Philadelphia, I made it my home, and I would be sad if I had to go."