Certainly, this is not how Brandon Graham envisioned his rookie season ending. The Eagles' first-round pick in last April's draft has spoken in his typically enthusiastic way all season about capping off his NFL debut with a Super Bowl. And while the Eagles' hopes are still set on a finale in Cowboys Stadium, Graham won't be in uniform if his team gets there.
Graham tore his ACL in last Sunday's 30-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys, ending his season. Now on crutches with his surgery scheduled for next Tuesday in Alabama at the knife of Dr. James Andrews, Graham reflected on his season that was and spoke with optimism about his future.
"This was a great rookie season in my eyes because I got some experience going into next year," he said. "Shoot, I'm ready. I felt like I was ready to pick it up a little more, but it's just stuff happens for a reason. I put in time, a lot of games, and I'm just going to go from there just working for next year. It wasn't that bad of a rookie year, I enjoyed it. (It was) just cut short a little bit."
Graham played in all 13 games, starting six, and notched 3.0 sacks, third among rookie 4-3 defensive ends. But Graham felt that he was ready to pick up his level of play down the stretch, which made the first significant injury of Graham's football playing life that much harder to take.
"I just had a meeting with the coaches before that game and they were just telling me they need me to turn it up a little bit more for the playoffs because they're going to need me," Graham said. "That's the first thing I thought about (when I got injured) because I know it was a tough loss. I enjoy coming to work every day and we all work hard as a D line and when you see somebody go down when you know how much work they put into it, it's tough to deal with. I feel like the coaches made me feel a whole lot better."
Graham said the current target for his return to the field is around five months. "The ACL (tear) isn't that bad," Graham said, "I had a meniscus tear and that was about it."
Graham is getting plenty of support from the coaches, training staff and teammates and he said he was touched by the outpouring of support from Eagles fans on Twitter (send him a get well message @BGraham24). He knows that he has a long road to recovery and that he'll have to be mentally tough.
However, there's a variable involved here that could change the course of Graham's rehab. If there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and the Owners by the time the current CBA runs out in March, Graham won't be able to rehab at the NovaCare Complex under the watchful eye of a training staff that was recently named the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society's Athletic Training Staff of the Year for 2010. Teams and players aren't allowed to have any contact if there's no CBA in place. Fortunately, Graham is aware of that possibility and has a contingency plan in place.
"Michigan, that's where I would be," said the University of Michigan graduate. "I would be in great hands if I go back to Michigan. I already told them the situation and they already know ... Hopefully we come to a conclusion by March, but I told (head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder) that if I have everything, I'll be good ... I have the resources. Michigan, they'll take care of me up there."
In the mean time, Graham is focused on his new position with the Eagles.
"I'm just going to be a cheerleader right now and cheer the team on like we always do, support the team and make sure that whatever I can do to get them going, I do," Graham said. "I'm going to the game this weekend. I'm going to be in the stands. I'm going to be there. I'm focused for next year and I'm coming back strong."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 4:12 p.m., December 16