In a very short period of NFL time, Brandon Graham has lived a full career. A first-round draft pick in 2010, his season ended with a knee injury. He's been climbing the mountain since then.
"I could not be more excited about what's going on," Graham said as the Eagles' June mini-camp ended at the NovaCare Complex. "I'm feeling the best I've ever felt."
Good thing. And deserved. Graham has worked on every phase of his game since his rookie-season injury, he's adapted his skills and changed his body to fit a new system and he realized the reward when the Eagles kept him on board with a four-year contract early in free agency.
"I think I am completely different," Graham said. "I understand the game and the league and what it takes to get it done here. I think I've grown up. I'm serious about being a great player. I want to be the best. I can't wait to get the season started, honestly."
Drafted to play a defensive end in the Eagles' 4-3 front when Andy Reid was the head coach, Graham's knee injury was a devastating setback. It came after he and safety Nate Allen became the first pair of Eagles rookies to start on opening day since safety Wes Hopkins and Jody Shultz did so together in 1983. And it happened in the 13th game of the season, after six starts, and late enough to negatively impact his 2011 campaign, during which Graham played in only three games.
The 2012 season was a total washout for just about every Eagle, but Graham got his game back on track a bit, recording 5 1/2 quarterback sacks, 7 tackles for loss and a career-high 50 total tackles in 16 games, including six starts.
"I felt like I was getting stronger, getting my burst back," Graham said. "It was a tough year, man. We had a lot of things going on (defensive coaching changes, a 4-12 record) and I just tried to keep my head straight. Keep working hard. I knew that if I did that, I would be in a good place at the end."
His good place ended up being on the edge as a stand-up linebacker in a new 3-4 front when Chip Kelly became the head coach and Bill Davis took over as defensive coordinator. After a year of adjustment, Graham blossomed in 2014 with 5 1/2 sacks, 13 1/2 tackles for loss and 43 total tackles as the third linebacker in a rotation that included Connor Barwin and Trent Cole as the starters. Cole is off to Indianapolis in free agency and Graham just might be the most improved player -- certainly one of the most improved -- on the roster based on his offseason workouts, his strength gains and his performance on the field in training sessions.
"I feel that," he said. "I really do. I feel like I'm ready to play my best football. I get the system, totally. I understand it all. I'm just excited. I just want to play football."
Graham will have his chance. Circle the date. August 2 is the first day for Training Camp on the field. Graham will be the player with the biggest smile on his face and the most bounce in his step. He has his chance to be great, and he's not going to waste a minute of that opportunity.
NEWS AND NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- In case you missed the news, the NFL announced some suspensions last week that impact the Eagles. Dallas loses middle linebacker Rolando McClain for four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, so he won't be at Lincoln Financial Field for the Week 2 game. McClain was a huge contributor to Dallas' better-than-expected defense in 2014. He played really good football. That said, the Cowboys hope that free agent Jasper Brinkley can fill in, and that Sean Lee, who moves to the weak side, can stay healthy and play good football. And then a week later, when the Eagles play at the Jets, New York will be without standout defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was also suspended for four games. New York used the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft on defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who will be asked to play immediately in his career.
- Love this quote from quarterbacks coach Ryan Day when the assistant coaches met the media in June. Day spoke of working with Chip Kelly when the two were together at New Hampshire: "At that time, we were changing offenses every week. We would go from Run 'n Shoot to the Wing-T to the Veer. One week we threw it six times, the next week we threw it 65 times," Day said. "Coach kind of had a laboratory there, and it was a lot of fun to be around." And we wonder if Kelly can adapt to his personnel. The question really should be, how much will the personnel the Eagles have added on offense change the way Kelly is thinking? It's going to be fun, for sure.
- The NFL's Supplemental Draft will be held on Thursday and at least one of the seven eligible players, Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle, is likely to be taken. Would the Eagles be interested? Don't know. They have certainly scouted him and they are keeping their eyes open to add talent on the roster. And the offensive line, as we know, has had some significant changes. But I don't know how the Eagles feel about Battle.
- Speaking of offensive line, newly signed John Moffitt will likely get some work in at the NovaCare Complex in the days leading up to Training Camp just so that he has a small understanding of what the Eagles are teaching on a daily basis. He'll have to get up to speed in a hurry to make this team. Moffitt hasn't played in a game since 2013. He has much, much to catch up on.