Brandon Graham currently holds the title of World’s Strongest Eagle. He is benching sets of 465 pounds. Squatting 405. He’s putting on a show in the weight room that has his teammates looking at him sideways.
“He’s strong, now. He’s got that young strength in him,” says veteran tackle Cullen Jenkins, breaking into a smile. “They need to get him some relief or something, give him a hug. He’s a little too intense up in there.”
Forgive Graham if he is eager to dominate. It’s been a while since he could make the claim of being the best at something, and quite honestly, he needs it. Talk to people close to him, and you will quickly realize Graham is a man at the mercy of confidence. If he has it, he is unstoppable, as he was his senior season at Michigan when he posted 10.5 sacks and led the nation in tackles for a loss. If he loses it, his game is shot.
There is no denying which side he fell on last season.
“The guy we got last year was a guy whose confidence was shattered,” says defensive line coach Jim Washburn, noting that Graham is now “a totally different guy.”
Confidence for an athlete is based largely on good health and success, both of which have been hard to come by since Graham traded the Michigan blue for Eagle green two years ago. What started as a promising rookie campaign was derailed by various injuries and ultimately thudded to a halt when the defensive end tore his ACL against Dallas late in the season. Microfracture surgery followed, as did a wave of negative commentary painting the 24-year-old as a bust as he spent last year trying to get right.
“I was depressed,” says Graham. “I was down, I felt like everybody was counting me out like I’m not going to be nothing when I come back. But that was really the trigger point of my motivation.”
It was near the midway point of Graham’s stint on the “physically unable to perform” list last season when he had a breakthrough.
“One day I was running out here with the parachutes, and I noticed how fast I was moving,” Graham says.
Though he wasn’t close to all the way back and unable to contribute to the season in a meaningful way, Graham had turned the corner. He went back to his roots this offseason and began working with his old trainer from his Michigan days, Mike Barwis, whom Graham credits for his now head-turning strength. He took up boxing to improve his wind; had corrective eye surgery to take out the blur; dropped more than 20 pounds. The transformation has caught the attention of his peers.
“He’s going to be a great player,” says fellow defensive end Trent Cole. “He reminds me of me and Jason [Babin], every down he’s going to be getting after it. I’m expecting a lot out of him. I think he’s going to be a big key to our success.”
A bust label has not once been peeled off in June, mind you. Atta-guys and weight-room victories are nice, but Graham knows that if he wants to remain in Philadelphia—and perhaps the NFL—he needs to return to first-round form, and soon.
“It’s going to be a great year to show the organization what I can do,” says Graham. “I want to be part of this organization and hopefully play my whole career here.
“I’m in high spirits right now.”