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Graham, Hicks Ready To Lead In 2017

Posted Apr 18, 2017

Coaches and personnel staff around the NFL like to talk about “the leap” players make between their first and second seasons in the league. In 2017, the Eagles' defense as a unit will be looking to make that jump forward in Year 2 under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Two players in the front seven who will help lead the charge are Brandon Graham and Jordan Hicks, who both finished 2016 strong and are looking to build upon that foundation.

Graham finished last season with 5.5 sacks – good for second on the team – and improved his game as a run stuffer as well, earning second-team All-Pro honors. Now 28 years old, Graham is looking forward to taking even more of a leadership role in 2017.

“I need to make sure I step up this year, make sure I’m more vocal, especially off the field,” Graham said on Tuesday. “On the field, I do talk a lot and I have fun with it and I think I can bring that same approach off the field and kind of help those guys who are coming in to try to feel at home, because that’s what it’s all about.

“I’ve got to build my trust with the new guys coming in. I think I have a lot of trust with some of the guys who have been here. I think for me, I just need to make sure that in those moments when somebody has to step it up as far as being a leader or saying something, I want to make sure that I embrace that role and be comfortable in those moments because I know a lot of people look for me to say a lot of things to get things going.”

From an outsider’s perspective, there seems to be more on Graham’s plate this year as compared to seasons past. Earlier this offseason, veteran Connor Barwin was released as the Eagles moved into the free agency period. Barwin tallied 31.5 sacks for the Eagles in four seasons, but Graham believes he’s ready to do his part to fill the void left by Barwin. He’s also ready to help one of the newcomers in the Eagles' defensive end rotation do the same.

“Connor was great in the community, Connor was great on the field, and that’s a guy you always want to have on your team,” Graham said. “I think with Chris Long coming in, he’s going to boost the pass rush the same way Connor did. It’s just all about reloading and making sure we have people coming in all with the same mindset. I think Connor is going to be a great fit with the Rams, and I think Chris Long, this is his style of defense and there’s not going to be too much of a drop-off.”

Hicks, meanwhile, will be just 25 years old when the regular season begins, but his youth doesn’t take away from his ability to lead. In just his second NFL season, Hicks was thrust into the starting middle linebacker job from Day 1 of Schwartz’s new scheme here in Philadelphia, and he’s learned a lot from the veterans around him since then.

“At the middle linebacker, I feel like I have to be (a leader),” Hicks said. “I think we have quite a bit of guys who can be considered leaders. You've got somebody up front like Fletcher Cox. You've got Malcolm Jenkins in the back. We've got Rodney (McLeod), guys who have really done a lot of successful things in this league and call themselves leaders and lead in their own way and do a lot of great things, pulling guys with them.

“I think that's what's special about this group. There isn't one guy that has to run the whole thing. Where somebody is weak, somebody else is strong. That's kind of how we build off of each other throughout the year.”

One year makes all the difference in the world to Hicks. This time last season, he was still rehabbing from his torn pectoral muscle that required season-ending surgery. Now, physically and mentally, things are much more in focus for the Texas product.

“This time last year, it was all questions,” Hicks said. “You didn't know what to expect. You would see press conferences and see who (Coach Schwartz) was through little snippets, but I didn't know him and have that type of relationship that I do now. … (Now) We'll have a lot of guys who have played in this defense and a lot of guys who can help those (new) guys out and really take a role of leadership under their wing.”

Both Graham and Hicks spoke on Tuesday about the importance of their respective roles as leaders. Talking a big game is one thing, but putting it into action is something different altogether, and the duo is eager to prove it between the white lines.

“You’ve got to show them that you came here to work every day,” said Graham. “Yes, you’re going to have bad days, but at the end of the day you’ve got to gain their trust by what you put out there on tape and what you put out there on the practice field. I think for me, everybody knows that as long as I’ve been here, I want to win and I want to get to the quarterback and I want to make sure we get him down this year.”

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