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Graham: A New Year, A New Start

Posted Apr 16, 2012

Brandon Graham knew that a first impression was important. He left Philadelphia following the 2011 season weighing anywhere from 275 to 280 pounds. He returned on Monday a different person in so many ways ...

"As soon as the season ended," Graham said as he finished up the first day of the team's offseason conditioning program at the NovaCare Complex, "I got after it. I've been focused on this for a long, long time. I've been waiting for this day to come."

The way Graham sees thing, 2012 represents a new chapter in his NFL life. There is no looking back at two mixed seasons with the Eagles, a major injury and constant comparison to a certain first-round draft pick who is a Pro Bowl player with the Super Bowl-champion Giants.

No, Graham remains entirely upbeat about his situation here. He reported on Monday at about 260 pounds, down substantially from last season when the combination of a bum knee that he was rehabbing and the league's work stoppage conspired to stack calories and fat and, yes, pounds on a frame better designed to be sleek and explosive.

"I'm in way better shape than I've been in for a while, all the way back to my junior year in college," he said. "I've been eating right, training right, doing a lot of Olympic-style lifting and explosive movements. I'm going to let Coach tell me how I'm doing. It all comes from him.

"I don't really know how I'm doing. That's for Coach to decide. I'm just focused on the day-by-day part of my job. My knee feels great. I've lost a lot of weight and I'm faster and stronger and I feel great.

"The weight last year, it was hard to lose. I couldn't run as hard as I wanted because of the knee and it was frustrating. Now, man, everything is so much different. My knee feels great. I'm where I want to be. I've waited so long to get the program started again, to show up here and show the coaches what kind of shape I'm in and that I am ready to go. I'm excited to be here."

Graham has a long way to go to get to where he wants to be. The team's first-round draft pick in 2010, Graham was starting and playing pretty well until he tore up his knee in December in Dallas. A long recovery ensued. The fact that Graham couldn't work with the team's athletic training staff didn't help matters a bit.

The 2011 campaign was a washout. Graham was on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the opening seven games of last season and then was in uniform for just three of the nine games in which he was eligible to play. Graham had no impact, just four total tackles, and couldn't wait to get right again.

"I tried to push through it because I really wanted to play, but the reality is that my knee was hurting, I wasn't in the shape I wanted to be in and I couldn't hide it," said Graham. "The coaches saw it and that's why I didn't play. Once I got to the offseason and once I lost the weight, I realized how mental it all was for me.

"It was tough for me, but we're here now and this is what I'm looking forward to. I'm going to be here throughout the whole offseason, be here as much as I can. I want to get back good with everybody here. I believe the coaches know what I can do, but it was important for me to show up in great shape, show the coaches that I took my time away from here and used it to my advantage.

"What I was doing before wasn't working. I needed to change things up and I did and I'm excited about it."

The proof comes much later, of course. Graham knows that. He has a lot of talent in front of him with Jason Babin and Trent Cole the starters, with Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt hungry for playing time.

Graham is back at square one, in a sense. The Eagles are counting on him to deliver the promise that made him a first-round draft pick. Is he that special player who the Eagles coveted so much that they traded up in the first round to acquire? Or is he just not the right fit in the league?

Or is Graham somewhere between the two extremes?

"Day by day," he says. "I'm just taking it day by day."

It was a good start to the offseason program as the NovaCare Complex was flooded with an entire team ready to go at it hard in Barry Rubin's strength and conditioning program. There was not a more encouraging sight, though, than the slimmed-down, ripped-up Graham reporting for duty in a serious frame of mind knowing the long road he is ready to attack for 2012.

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