Eagles' top pick Graham aims for starting role

Brandon Graham leaps a tackling dummy in practice. The rookie from Michigan seems likely to grab a starting DE role.
Brandon Graham leaps a tackling dummy in practice. The rookie from Michigan seems likely to grab a starting DE role.
Posted: August 04, 2010

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Brandon Graham can buy a couple of beach houses in Malibu with his new contract.

The Eagles' top draft pick, who signed a five-year deal on Thursday, will make $22 million in base salary with just under $14 million guaranteed, according to league sources.

Graham, the first defensive end chosen with the 13th overall selection, said that he wants to wait until his second contract, however, before he buys his dream home.

"I rented a house in Malibu just before I came here and I was just like, 'This is unreal,' " Graham said Tuesday. "But I'm focused on football right now and just trying to save. That's what they taught me at the rookie symposium."

The 22-year-old Graham appears to have it all and he has yet to play a down in the NFL. He's got the big contract, early praise from his coaches and already the respect of his veteran teammates.

For most of training camp, tackle Winston Justice has had the task of blocking the rookie with the endless motor. Their battles thus far have been highlight reels. Justice was asked to compare Graham to a player and delivered high praise.

"He's kind of a shorter [Dwight] Freeney maybe," said Justice, referring to the all-pro Colts defensive end. "You're going to quote that and then it will make his head really big now. You don't need to make his head big."

If there's a first-round pick not in jeopardy of getting too big for his britches, it's Graham. At least it seems that way. He walks around with a constant smile, is excessively accommodating to fans, and has made it a point to shake the hand of every media member when he exits the locker room after practice.

And then there's the fact that he's not especially big, in relative terms.

"Hearing [the compliments] is good," Graham said. "But I'm always thinking in the back of my mind, 'You're undersized. Remember that.' "

Graham is listed at 6-foot-2, 268 pounds, but is probably an inch or two shorter. It's not his size, though, that should give offensive linemen fits and could project him as the Eagles' starting left defensive end earlier than first thought.

"His lower body, he's got a nice anchor there and good core strength and understands how to use his hands and arms and plays with separation on the linemen," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

The former Michigan star has already tinkered with the pass rushing moves that made him so dominating in college. His bull rush, for instance, is no longer him running straight-on with horns down.

"I used to go straight down the middle because I could overpower him," Graham said. "But when I work half the man, I can lift the arm up and dip under him a little better. That's what I'm good at - I'm good at turning that shoulder and dipping."

That's where not being as tall could benefit Graham. When he has used that move on the 6-6 Justice, it almost looks as if the tackle is going to decapitate the end.

"You don't really feel it," Graham said. "It looks worse that it feels."

Graham has also been working on a new move, the "chop-and-swipe" technique once perfected by Eagles great Reggie White.

"Sometimes you get away with one or two types of pass rush at the college level," Reid said. "Here you've got to put a combination together that you can throw at the tackles."

Graham is still on the second team behind Juqua Parker. But he was with the "ones" in the nickel package and moved up in the basic scheme when the 32-year-old Parker took advantage of Reid's 30-and-over rule and sat out Tuesday morning's practice.

"Sometimes I just want [Parker] to go out there first just to see how it is," Graham said. "Sometimes I'm nervous. The first couple of games I'm going to be nervous. But when things calm down I really want to take over that starting spot."


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane.

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