BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The old pros know. They watch a training camp practice VERY differently than a fan or the media or even an experiences sportswriter. Old Pros and coaches employ an entirely difference perspective because they have been there. Much as a combat veteran or a grizzled veteran of any professional trenches vs. those who may have studied the academics and conventional knowledge. Experience always speaks to knowledge because there is no substitute for practical experience. Old Pros have been around this stuff before so they aren’t easily impressed. Earlier this week Mike Quick, one of the Eagles’ all-time great players, saw rookie defensive end Brandon Graham in action and offered a one-word review: “Wow.”
That’s a pretty good endorsement. Quick was watching one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive lines. Graham fired out of his stance, and the blocker set up to the outside, expecting Graham to turn the corner. Instead, Graham used a spin move to cut inside and left the blocker flat-footed. In a game, it would have been an easy sack.
Quick nodded and smiled. “That,” he said, “was impressive.”
Graham has been turning heads ever since he stepped on the practice field at Lehigh. He missed the first week of rookie drills while his agent worked out his contract, but it does not look as though the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Graham had a problem catching up. He has shown enough to convince the coaches and veterans that he will make an impact this season.
“He looks like he’s going to be a good football player,” coach Andy Reid said. “Does he have some things he has to learn? Absolutely. He’s an explosive guy. You can see that. He’s got very good athletic ability and instincts. Now it’s about mastering a few different techniques that you need to play at this level.
“Sometimes you can get away with one or two types of pass rush [moves] at the college level. But here you’ve got to put a combination together that you can throw at [offensive] tackles. He’s working on those things and by the end of camp he should have a pretty good repertoire of things.”
“I can see he’s a solid player,” said defensive end Trent Cole, who would benefit most if Graham can provide a consistent pass rush threat on the other side. “I look at him as another [Dwight] Freeney. He’s a great player, and just keep watching because he’s going to be very good.”
Graham doesn’t project as a starter – veteran Juqua Parker still is the No. 1 left end – but the Eagles do expect Graham to contribute as a situational player and pass rusher. If the rookie develops as the Eagles expect, he may be getting the bulk of the snaps before the season ends.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hopes to get more pass rush out of his front four. The Eagles have been a blitzing defense for years. It worked well for a long time, but last season opponents had a very short and predictable read on the Eagles and were much more effective in picking up the blitz.
So this year the emphasis was on finding ways to generate more pressure with a four-man rush. That means bringing in linemen who can beat blockers one on one (Graham). The Eagles saw in Graham the explosive skills similar to a Freeney (a Pro Bowl end for Indianapolis), or an Elvis Dumervil (who led the league with 17 sacks last season) in Denver. Freeney and Dumervil both are similar in size to Graham. Short, stocky with thick lower bodies. All three are similar in technique: They stay low and get under the pads of taller offensive tackles using their speed and leverage to turn the corner and get to the passer.
Graham was an outstanding player on a less-than-outstanding defense at the University of Michigan, with 29.5 career sacks (2nd in school’s history) and 56 tackles. He had two, sometimes three blockers on him and he still made plays. Graham could be closely compared to LaMarr Woodley, another Michigan standout. Same size, same style of play. Woodley is a Pro Bowl player with the Pittsburgh Steelers – he tied Freeney with 13.5 sacks last season – but he lines up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
The Eagles, a team that has played a 4-3 system for years, traded up 11 spots in the first round this year to draft Graham., obviously valuing Graham’s ability to play linebacker in a 3-4. Can he play defensive end in a 4-3? Is he big enough to put his hand on the ground and take on blockers who outweigh him by 50 or 60 pounds? Is he strong enough to hold the point and play the run? So far, Reid likes what he sees in those areas. He compares Graham to ex-Eagle Hugh Douglas, who was just about the same size and developed into a Pro Bowl defensive end. Early in his career, Douglas was typecast as an undersized pass rusher, but he matured into an very good all-around end who could play the run as well as the pass.
“[Graham] has done very well with that,” Reid said. “He’s very strong in the lower body. He’s got a nice anchor there and good core strength and he understands how to use his hands and arms and plays with separation on the linemen.”
Cole was asked, if Graham plays well this season, would it help him on the other side of the defensive line. Cole smiled.
“It’s going to help everybody,” he said. “It’s going to help all of us.”
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org