Calling 2012 an "up and down" year for the defensive line doesn't really explain what the group has been through. But as difficult as things got for the line, there were some real bright spots. Among them, the re-emergence of defensive end Brandon Graham is at the top of the list. The former Michigan standout's resolve and determination was evident from the beginning of the offseason. He worked himself into the best shape of his life and vowed to win back his starting job.
Graham was the team's first-round pick in 2010 and was expected to be one of the Eagles' premier defenders of the future. However, a late-season injury ended his rookie year prematurely. What happened next was a journey that took him from starter to the bottom of the depth chart and back again. And it happened not because of his first-round draft stock, but because of the dedication and perseverance of Graham.
Graham's rookie year started well, but ended early when he tore his ACL in Week 14. The timetable for his return was uncertain, but his odds of making a full recovery early the next year didn't look good. To fill the void, the Eagles signed Jason Babin during the 2011 offseason. Graham sat out the majority of last season, and only appeared in three games.
At that point Graham could have checked out. He could've accepted the demotion and tried to fit in where he could. He could have dealt with the outside world calling him a bust. Instead, he adopted the painful moniker and vowed to reclaim his starting job.
"Everybody works harder when they're not given something. When you have to earn it, you'll find out the true character of a person," Graham said. "I think anyone who comes back from injury should have to earn their job back because, shoot, you get hurt, now let's see how bad you want it back. We know that you can start, but let's see if you're going to want it as much as you wanted it before you got hurt."
Slowly but surely, Graham climbed back up the depth chart. When Babin was released prior to the Eagles' Week 13 game against the Cowboys, Graham reclaimed the starting job once and for all.
In that game, Graham made sure to make his presence felt. He had finished the game with eight combined tackles, four quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks. In his five starts this year, Graham has 29 total tackles, four sacks, eight hurries and a forced fumble. It was during that reclamation process that Graham learned just what kind of player — and person — he is.
"I'm a fighter, man," Graham said. "I started from the third team. I was frustrated, but at the same time I never stopped coming. Everything started working out as I kept fighting."
Though the season is winding down, Graham is still eagerly awaiting Sunday's matchup against the Giants. The Eagles' hated rival still has something to play for, and it's the Eagles' job to end New York's playoff hopes.
"We're playing against the New York Giants," he said. "I'm just happy to go out there and compete one last game and try to win and end this season on a good note."
If history is any indicator, Graham is going to compete with everything he has this Sunday. It's gotten him this far, so why change anything now?
"I wish I could've started earlier," he said. "But at the same time, I'm happy for the opportunity and I'm trying not to lose it."
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