To be a starter, Brandon Graham will have to go

To be a starter, Brandon Graham will have to go

Eagle Eye: Needs on the Eagles' defense

January 7, 2014, 12:45 pm
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Brandon Graham was drafted by the Eagles in the first round in 2010. (USA Today Images)

It’s been four years now of Brandon Graham waiting for his chance, four years waiting for his turn, four years hearing about how the Eagles should have drafted Earl Thomas instead, and he’s starting to embrace the reality that if his chance does come, it probably won’t come in Philadelphia.

Graham, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2010, finished his fourth year in the NFL with a sack in the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints, and on Monday, just as he’s done every year, he mulled his future once the dust had settled.

“My biggest thing is I just want to be a starter and I definitely deserve that much,” Graham said. “As long as I keep working, I know that day will come.

“I feel real good going into next season. I think I’ve got pretty good film out there.”

Film. As in film for other teams to see.

Graham converted to outside linebacker in Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme and played only 345 snaps in 17 games, or just 27 percent of the Eagles’ 1,273 defense snaps.

It comes out to about 20 of the Eagles’ 75 snaps per game, but nonetheless, he was third on the team with four sacks.

The problem is that Graham is really a 4-3 defensive end trying to fit into a 3-4 defense. He did his best this year, but so long as he’s playing in Davis’ scheme, he’ll be mis-cast.

“I’m going to make it work whatever happens,” Graham said. “I definitely like 4-3, but I learned to love that 3-4 now, too. But you’re right, I’ll probably end up in a 4-3 my next go-round.”

It’s just a question of when – and where – that go-round will be.

Graham is signed for two more years at $1.6705 million in 2014 and $1.5 million in 2015. Those are big numbers for a guy who plays less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps.

“Every opportunity I got out there, I tried to make the best of it,” Graham said. “Shoot, if people don’t see that? I just try to come to work every day, try to be the first one here -- but James Casey always beats me.

“I just wanted to show them how serious it was for me. I’m going to keep doing that. Still got that chip on my shoulder. … I definitely expected us to go all the way with this one because we have a great team and I’m hoping to return here to be part of this great team.”

Graham can’t play defensive end in Davis’s 3-4 scheme, since he’s about 40 pounds too light, and he’s really not an outside linebacker, either, although he did his best this year at the new position.

There certainly isn’t a starting spot available for him, and that’s the one thing he wants the most.

“I’m not saying I want to go anywhere else, but I do want to be a starter,” Graham said. “If that works out here, it works out here. If not, it doesn’t. But I will be playing somewhere.”

Graham has 11½ sacks in just over three NFL seasons – he missed most of 2011 with a knee injury he suffered late in 2010. Over the last two years, only Trent Cole (11) has more sacks than Graham (8½) on the Eagles.

Those numbers, though, tell you just how desperately the Eagles need pass-rush help. That’s probably their No. 1 priority going into the offseason. And if the Eagles do draft a pure 3-4 edge pass rusher, that will only make Graham even more expendable.

“I’m a pass rusher,” Graham said. “That’s what I do.

“My biggest thing is I want to be a starter and I want to play and show that I’m a Pro Bowl guy every year. Until then, until I find out what’s going to happen, I don’t really know what to say.”