Reid: Graham unlikely for season opener

Brandon Graham had surgery on his right kneein December.
Brandon Graham had surgery on his right kneein December.
Posted: March 23, 2011

NEW ORLEANS - While the NFL lockout has limited the contact the Eagles can have with their injured players, Andy Reid's statement on Tuesday that it would be a "real stretch" for defensive end Brandon Graham to return by the season opener emphasized the team's needs.

Graham tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Dec. 12 and had corrective surgery less than a week later, so a return by the start of the 2011 season was never a foregone conclusion.

A year earlier, center Jamaal Jackson tore his ACL in late December and recovered in time to start in the opener the following September. But Jackson suffered a season-ending triceps injury against the Packers and that may be influencing the Eagles' cautious approach with their 2010 top draft pick.

Reid, who answered approximately 75 minutes of questions during an interview session with reporters at the NFL owners meetings, did not indicate if Graham had a setback in his rehabilitation. Currently, the Eagles cannot talk directly with their players, although there can be a medical intermediary.

"As long as the doctor did the surgery he can talk to that player," Reid said, explaining the boundaries. "If he didn't do the surgery then he can talk to the doctor that did that surgery on that player."

Graham, like safety Nate Allen, tackle Winston Justice, Jackson and other injured Eagles, have been forced to find alternative means for their rehabs. Graham and Allen, for instance, have been recovering at their former colleges, Michigan and South Florida.

Reid said Allen, who ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee a week after Graham's injury, "should be" ready by the opener.

But the bleak prognosis on Graham is cause for concern, a year after the Eagles identified improving their pass rush as their No. 1 offseason priority. Reid didn't reveal that strategy until after they had selected Graham. A month earlier at the owners meetings in Orlando, he downplayed surgery for defensive end Victor Abiamiri.

Abiamiri, Reid would later divulge, had microfracture knee surgery that caused him to miss the season. So it was a bit of surprise to hear Reid provide detail on Graham's prospects and clue teams onto the Eagles' needs.

Trent Cole and Juqua Parker finished the season as the starters and are under contract for next season, but both wore down late. Cole (28) and Parker (32) are also aging. Alerted to this fact on top of Graham's injury, Reid pointed to Ricky Sapp, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, and Darryl Tapp as potential answers.

Te'o-Nesheim, though, hardly got on the field as a rookie. Sapp spent his first season on injured reserve. And Tapp tallied just three sacks in a part-time role. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn was brought in to get the most out of that group, but the Eagles have to be looking for an upgrade in either the draft or through free agency, whenever it opens.

Reid noted that there is a strong class of defensive lineman in this year's draft. At defensive tackle, mainstays Brodrick Bunkley's and Mike Patterson's productions has slipped in recent seasons.

"We have [Antonio] Dixon and [Trevor] Laws stepped up and played pretty well for us," Reid said. "I think we're OK there."

The Eagles are not OK at right cornerback. Dimitri Patterson finished the season as the starter after Ellis Hobbs reinjured his neck, but almost no one expects Patterson to be given another shot.

"We're going to evaluate that," Reid said. "We're evaluating the whole shebang. Dimitri will get one year better if Dimitri's back with us."

Asked to name what his top priority would be this offseason, Reid started off with the consistency of the offensive line. Much of Michael Vick's success could lie with his protection and the Eagles had trouble on the right side of line and protecting the lefthanded quarterback's blind side.

Right tackle Winston Justice was benched in the playoff loss to Green Bay, but he was playing on an injured knee that later required arthroscopic surgery.

"I'm comfortable with Winston," Reid said, also throwing King Dunlap into the mix. "I thought [Dunlap] really improved and showed that he's a legitimate contender for that spot."

Reid even included the 6-foot-9 Dunlap in the competition at right guard. But Mike McGlynn could move over to that spot and replace the Max Jean-Gilles/Nick Cole sieve after filling in for Jackson last season. The draft is also much deeper at offensive lineman than it was a year ago when the Eagles did not pick at that position.

The Eagles also need linebackers, as Reid noted.

But injuries and Reid's emphasis up front suggest the Eagles will look to improve both sides of the line in the draft and whenever player movement is permitted.


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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