Eagles Wake-Up Call: Graham Preps For Expanded Role


NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia EaglesNot many people thought Brandon Graham would still be an Eagle in 2015.

After the team traded up to pick him in 2010, injuries and coaching changes prevented Graham from producing on the field. The lack of production led many to label him a bust, a word Graham refuses to utter.

“When you hear that B word, you’re like, ‘I’ve got to get that up off me,'” he said Monday.

Graham posted three sacks in his rookie season, but suffered a torn ACL in Week 14. He missed all but three games in his sophomore campaign. That was the year the Eagles hired Jim Washburn, and Graham watched his new position coach implement the Wide-9 front, which had Jason Babin starting ahead of him.

Graham called that season and the first half of 2012 the low point of his NFL career.

“The low point was when Wash was here,” he said. “Because Wash would make you feel bad, boy. He would make you feel like you can’t play at all.

“My biggest thing was just don’t break, that was my ‘B.’ I was almost at that breaking point. I was just like, ‘Man, stuff is not going right.’ I think what happened was when Wash left and I took off for a minute, that kind of gave me hope that I could play in this league. Because you start to doubt yourself a little bit because the coaches [are] on you 24/7 and it was tough, but I’m just happy that everything is looking up right now.”

After the Eagles released Babin and fired Washburn, Graham tallied four sacks in the final five games of the year. Moving to outside linebacker in Billy Davis’ 3-4, Graham has shown flashes as a rotational player. He posted 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last year, while also holding up well against the run.

Graham tested the free agent waters this offseason, but ended up re-signing with the Eagles on a four-year, $26 million deal that includes $14 million guaranteed. If he stays healthy, Graham is a good bet to start more games in 2015 than he has in his entire career up to this point (13).

“This year, I got way more [of an] opportunity than I had [before],” said Graham. “I get to start the game off, my energy… it’s always crazy at the beginning the game, you got so much energy. And to just sit on the bench for that little bit… but now I finally get to go right from the start and that’s what I’m excited about.”

As for his coverage skills, Graham said he currently weighs 260 pounds, roughly 10 pounds less than what he played at last year, and he hopes the consistent snaps will help keep his weight down and agility up.

Does Graham have anything special planned if he is able to notch his first career interception and take it back to the house for six?

“I’m going to do a no-hand back flip when I score,” he said. “The first touchdown I’ll ever score, remember that, I’m going to do a roundhouse back flip.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil’s notes and observations from yesterday’s practice in his running diary.

A look at the progress Sam Bradford has made and some encouraging signs from Monday.

“Now it’s all about just going out and making plays.” Tim checks in with 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith.

Three leftovers on Allen Barbre, Jordan Hicks and Byron Maxwell.

New defensive backs coach Cory Undlin talks about Walter Thurmond’s conversion to safety.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peter King of The MMQB gave a pair of thoughts regarding the Eagles rushing attack:

4. I think one of the football stories we’ve paid far too little attention to this offseason is what the Eagles have done with their skill positions. Added: running backs DeMarco Murray (the number one rusher in the league in 2014) and Ryan Mathews (number seven in 2013), first-round receiver Nelson Agholor. Subtracted: running back LeSean McCoy, wideout Jeremy Maclin. With Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles—who, I’m told, is still a major favorite of Chip Kelly—I think you’ll see the Eagles be a top-three rushing team in 2015. That is: If they’re efficient at it, the Eagles will be in the top three in the NFL in rushing attempts this year.

5. I think you’re surprised by that, aren’t you? Don’t be. In Kelly’s first two seasons as an NFL coach, his Eagles were fifth in 2013 and seventh in 2014 in rushing attempts per game. With a quarterback, Sam Bradford, that the Eagles don’t want to expose to more punishment than necessary, and a potential workhorse back in Murray, the Eagles are strong candidates to run the ball more than half of their offensive snaps. That’s something no one thought Kelly would do as an NFL coach.

Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation reports on the Eagles feelings about Barbre:

“The other player that I really think is underrated is Allen Barbre,” [Jeff] Stoutland said, without even being prompted to talk about the veteran. “Allen Barbre is a really good player. We have a lot of confidence in him.”

Stoutland’s words have been supported by Philadelphia’s actions. Part of why the Eagles felt comfortable releasing 10-year starter Todd Herremans earlier this offseason was because they had a player like Barbre behind him. Barbre spent the 2013 season as the top backup offensive lineman at every non-center position. In 2014, he was slated to be the team’s starting right tackle while Johnson served his four-game suspension. Unfortunately for Barbre, he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1.

COMING UP

We’re back at practice this afternoon and will hear from Kelly.