Brandon Graham reminisces about the time he was in Marcus Smith's shoes

Brandon Graham reminisces about the time he was in Marcus Smith's shoes

The fact that Brandon Graham is still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles is a mild surprise. Virtually every analyst agrees he’s not a good fit for a 3-4 defense, and quite a few—myself included—speculated he could be traded over draft weekend.

Didn’t happen. But the Birds did go ahead and take Marcus Smith in the first round, in case there are any doubts about the club’s direction at outside linebacker. Now, Graham sounds a lot like a man who is just trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

A couple of reporters noted Graham initially refused to speak to members of the media after OTAs on Thursday, but he eventually relented. And, in typical Brandon Graham fashion, he said all the right things.

He sees what’s going on though. After all, he’s been in Smith’s shoes before.

Fans might’ve forgotten the Eagles moved up to No. 13 overall in 2010 to select Graham, if only the player people wanted the team to take there (He Who Shall Not Be Named) hadn’t turned into a perennial All-Pro. Oops.

It’s revisionist history anyway. Graham was enjoying a solid rookie season until he was struck down by a torn ACL. The injury required microfracture surgery to repair, which made for a longer rehabilitation.

By the time Graham was back up to full speed, the Eagles had signed Jason Babin to take his place on the defensive line opposite Trent Cole. Babin’s star quickly faded, but Andy Reid’s finally fizzled, too, ushering in Chip Kelly, Bill Davis, the 3-4, Connor Barwin—now Smith.

So if you can detect a hint of frustration in Graham’s words, even as he tells reporters he’s ready to compete and wants to be in Philly, you can probably understand.

Interestingly enough, Smith told reporters he’s been learning Barwin’s role, not Cole’s. That’s not necessarily an indication of the long-term plan, but it would seem to leave the door open for Graham to spell Cole for the time being.

The reality, however, is Graham could potentially start at defensive end in a conventional 4-3 alignment. Yes, he only has 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons, but in such limited playing time, that doesn’t give us a true sense of how valuable he is.

According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Graham ranked seventh among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2013 in pass rush productivity, a stat that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt. In 2012, PFF had him No. 1 among 4-3 defensive ends in the same category. (Minimum 25% snaps.)

Graham is better than most people realize, largely because he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to show it. Would he have the same impact if he were playing every down? It’s impossible to say, but he deserves a shot.

A shot it doesn’t appear he’ll ever get in Philly, no matter how much he wants it.

I still think there’s a reasonable chance Graham could be moved at some point over the summer. A team that’s thin on pass-rushers or suffers an injury at training camp may be willing to make a move as the regular season approaches.

Should that happen, it seems like it will be a bittersweet day for Graham. Players want to come to Philadelphia and play for Chip Kelly—key word being “play” though. Graham is doing everything in his power, but the Eagles keep on dropping roadblocks in his path.

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.