Eagles' Graham feels need to prove himself

Brandon Graham strips the ball from 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, creating a TD return by safety Quintin Mikell.
Brandon Graham strips the ball from 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, creating a TD return by safety Quintin Mikell.
Posted: November 03, 2010

He's approaching only his eighth game, but top draft pick Brandon Graham said he had crashed headlong into the so-called "rookie wall" weeks ago.

After thriving in his first NFL training camp and winning a starting job, Graham suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Jaguars in the third game of the season. While laboring through that, he picked up a nasty-sounding prostate infection that limited him against the Titans on Oct. 24.

After a week off and some time back home in Michigan, though, Graham said that he was ready to provide the pass-rushing injection the Eagles envisioned when they drafted him and that the pass defense sorely needs.

"I hit that rookie wall about five weeks ago, but that bye week took it up off me. Now I'm ready. Nine more weeks. Let's go," Graham said as the team returned to practice Monday. "I got better with my ankle, and I knew that was holding me back. Right now I just say I've got nine games to prove myself, and that's what I'm going to do."

Graham's comments about proving himself hint at an underlying concern: He has not yet been the quarterback terror the Eagles envisioned when they traded up to draft him 13th overall in April.

So far, he has two sacks and a paltry seven tackles. He lost his starting job to veteran Juqua Parker. And he has been part of an Eagles front line that has created little pressure without the blitz.

It was supposed to be different with the Eagles' reshuffle along the defensive line. But instead of harassing quarterbacks with just the front four, the Eagles have had to either bring extra men to create pressure - leaving the secondary vulnerable - or settle for safe coverages and little pass rush, allowing quarterbacks time to throw and culminating with Kerry Collins' big day for the Titans.

The Eagles will need someone to get to the quarterback this week, when Peyton Manning comes to Philadelphia.

So far it hasn't been Graham.

Few rookies rack up big sack numbers. In the last five seasons, only five first-year players reached double-digit sack totals. Four others got seven sacks or more.

This season, only three rookies have more sacks than Graham. Three others are tied with Graham's two. Trent Cole finished his rookie year with five sacks.

Also, the Eagles played Graham at defensive tackle early in the season even though he is small enough that some scouts considered him a linebacker heading into the draft. The Eagles wanted to create inside pressure, but Graham was left with less space to use his best attribute - his speed.

That experiment appears over. Graham said he has been working exclusively at end.

He had been hampered by his sore left ankle, and in the days before the Titans game picked up a prostate infection that he said caused lower back pain, made it difficult to sleep and keep food down, and caused several other unappetizing symptoms.

His playing time, which had already diminished, hit a low against Tennessee.

It was one more downer in a rookie year that already had the cheery Graham turning sour. After charming fans and the media during training camp, he was driving to the NovaCare Complex early in the morning for treatment on his ankle. He had to stay in Philadelphia until Thursday of the bye week so he could visit a foot specialist and another doctor for his infection.

"I was going through it, coming here, driving, going crazy, every day," Graham said, snarling his lips to convey the frustration. "I'm just happy it's over with now, and I'm just all smiles now."

Graham said he felt fresh after the bye, a long weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., time with his former Michigan teammates, and a visit with some family.

"I really just took the bye week as a healing process for me because I know how serious these next nine games are going to be," he said.

Jackson update

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson said he visited an independent doctor Tuesday to get another concussion test, but he did not reveal the results. In a television appearance Jackson said, "I'm feeling pretty good overall." But he gave no indication that he had passed a test.

The Eagles had no official update Tuesday. Jackson had not passed a concussion test from an independent doctor as of Monday night, according to the Eagles. He practiced Monday afternoon in a light session that did not include contact.

"I'm still taking it a day at a time," Jackson said.

Jackson told reporters Monday that it would be a game-time decision on whether he plays against the Colts.

Extra points

The Eagles worked out cornerbacks Joe Burnett, a former Steeler, and Fred Bennett, a former Charger and Texan, on Tuesday. Neither was signed. The workouts had been planned in advance and were not a response to the Titans' outburst, according to the team. They were intended to scout potential future acquisitions, the team said. . . . The Eagles had no update on cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who lost his starting job after being burned by the Titans and visiting a doctor Monday. He had not been on any injury reports previously.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com.

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