Even At OLB, Key For Graham Is Rushing the Passer

The question posed to Brandon Graham was a simple one: Are you now an outside linebacker?

“I don’t know,” Graham said. “There’s been a lot of talk around a lot of things, but I don’t really know where they want to put me at. All I know is wherever they put me, I’m going to go full out.”

Of course, just last month, Graham told Birds 24/7 that he was preparing for the position change. And he basically backed up that notion today, saying he’d like to get down to 260 pounds (from 270, where he is now).

Graham has had an up-and-down career since the Eagles traded up to draft him in the first round back in 2010. He showed glimpses as a rookie, but suffered a season-ending injury and got out of shape in 2011, appearing in only three games.

Last year, Graham was probably the Eagles’ most productive pass-rusher. He only played 40.4 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, but tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks and was third with 27 hurries. As we pointed out a couple weeks ago, Graham made something happen (sack, hurry, QB hit, batted pass) on 20.5 percent of his pass-rushing attempts.

“It’s a whole new slate for me,” he said. “I’m just going to make the best of it. I’m just excited because I don’t know if they really know what I can do, and I know what I can do, and I can’t wait to show them this year.”

Graham fielded multiple questions about his ability to drop back into coverage. While certainly that is part of the job description at outside linebacker, it’s important to remember the key will still be his ability to rush the passer. Looking at the 25 outside linebackers who played the most snaps last year, 18 rushed the passer at least 70 percent of the time, according to PFF’s numbers.

Stand-out pass-rushers like Aldon Smith (85 percent), DeMarcus Ware (88 percent) and Clay Matthews (85 percent) were sent after the quarterback at an exceptionally high rate.

In other words, if Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis believe Graham can be one of the team’s most productive pass-rushers, it’s their job to find a way for him to get on the field.

“I’m hoping that everything carries over [from last year], just with the adjustments that I’m going to have to make,” Graham said. “But at the same time, rushing the passer is rushing the passer. And I feel like that’s a strength of mine. I just need to get a lot better to get [us] where we need to go and make more plays than I made last year.”

The question about length is a fair one with Graham. Kelly has shown a preference for taller players with long arms, specifically on defense. But the 6-1 Graham is confident he’ll get a fair shake.

“If I make plays and I do what I’m supposed to do, I think all that will probably change,” he said. “I’ve been talked about all the time, me being under-sized, but I’m here today. All I can do is go hard, and everything else will pretty much take care of itself.

“I feel like I’ll get a fair shot. I guess we’ll see as it goes, but I believe that just with what he was talking about yesterday, that everybody has a fair chance to make this squad, no matter if you’re under-sized or not.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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