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Brandon Graham knows he’s running out of chances.
“I'm one step away from being wrote off,” Graham said.
That’s the story of Graham’s career.
He’s going into his fourth season with the Eagles but has yet to fulfill the enormous expectations of a 13th pick in the draft.
He started showing flashes late last year -- four sacks in five games after the Eagles jettisoned Jason Babin and gave Graham his snaps -- but as soon as he had some momentum, the season was over, the coaching staff was gone and it was time to start over. Not only with a new staff but at a new position.
Can Graham succeed as an outside linebacker? Like he said, this is likely his last chance to succeed as an Eagle.
“I’m ready to erupt, man,” he said. “I’m ready to erupt. Start strong and finish strong, and let’s go try to do something this year. Because the last couple seasons haven’t been good for us. Neither of us. The organization or myself.
“All I know is you’re going to get 100 percent from me, like I say every year, and it’s going to show out there this year.”
You know the story. Graham was off to a decent start as a rookie before suffering a knee injury that not only shelved him for the rest of 2010 but rendered his 2011 season useless. He barely played early last year before his late surge.
“To end like I did last year and to know what I could have done if I had been playing last year, it lit a fire under me,” he said. “And I’m going to make sure I’m going to keep that fire lit.”
Graham, now 25, is trying to re-invent himself as an outside linebacker in the predominantly 3-4 scheme run by Billy Davis, Graham’s fourth defensive coordinator in four NFL seasons [and seventh since his freshman year of college].
Graham worked in coverage at times in college but that was in a zone scheme. This is totally different. Now he’s got to learn how to cover tight ends and backs and even the occasional slot receiver.
“It’s going good,” he said. “I’m taking it in one day at a time and having fun while I’m doing it. Right now, we’re just experimenting, just trying to see what all I can do. I’m curious to see what they think once everything comes to an end before training camp.
“I’ve just got to make sure I keep my weight down [so I’m] able to run with them boys.
“They want right now to see who can be this and who can be that. Once we get to camp, we’ll really see who’s going to be starting and who’s going to be playing and what else we can do.”
Graham has heard it from fans since he got here. He’s heard that he’s a bust, he’s heard he’s a failure, he’s heard all about Jason Pierre-Paul, taken two picks after Graham, and how he has 27½ sacks and two Pro Bowls in three years to just 8½ sacks for Graham.
He talks a lot about how he has a chip on his shoulder, and that certainly hasn’t changed.
“Every day I just have that chip because I started off good and was really feeling it my rookie year,” he said. “Then I got hurt. After that, ‘He's going to be this and that.’ It kind of got to me at first.
“Then, when I was able to go out and defend myself … I kind of got held back a little bit in the beginning of the season last year and toward the end I was like, ‘When I get my shot I'm going to make sure I take advantage.’”
The only outside linebacker the Eagles have with NFL experience in a 3-4 is Connor Barwin, the former Texan who signed with the Eagles in free agency.
Graham said Barwin has been a huge help learning the coverages and drops and footwork.
“It’s a great benefit because you can always pick his brain,” Graham said. “He’s always throwing little stuff out there that he sees. He’s not selfish at all. He’s a great team player, and he just wants to win.”
When the dust settles, Barwin and Trent Cole will likely be the starting outside backers, with Graham, Everette Brown, a one-time second-round pick of the Panthers, and former CFLers Phillip Hunt and Chris McCoy also in the mix.
Graham is due to earn $1.25 million this year, $1.6705 million in 2014 and $1.5 million in 2015, with cap numbers ranging from $2.9575 million this year to $3.2075 million in 2015.
Safe to say if he doesn’t pick things up quickly, he won’t be here.
“I can't wait for camp,” Graham said. “Because that's when I can show how much of a chip I really have on my shoulder.
“I'm definitely feeling that pressure. At the same time I'm going to take care of what I can, and that is to work hard.”