Sam Donnellon: Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham eager to show he's not a bust

Posted: June 14, 2012

IT'S BEEN almost a month since Brandon Graham called himself "a bust." Back in May, amid a week of high-octane work in which he showed his old speed and a new, svelter frame, Graham said he was well aware of the tweets and social media taunts that have accompanied his long return from microfracture surgery to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, and the stunning emergence of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was taken a few spots after the Eagles used the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft to select the undersized Graham.

"Sometimes I'd get it while I was on social media," he was saying after finishing the first of three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. "Or somebody would write me on Twitter. Stuff like that. My boys might tell me, ‘Use this as motivation' as they send me an article somebody wrote. It helped me. But at the same time I was like, ‘OK, I'm not going to forget this' because I know what I can do."

At Michigan, Graham recorded 29.5 sacks and 56 tackles for loss. His nonstop motor, not unlike the one on Trent Cole, was clearly evident during that first summer as a rookie, and the early reviews, while uneven, were promising. Graham looked lost at times that first season, but then again so did most rookies, including Pierre-Paul.

But while Pierre-Paul emerged as another Giants frontline weapon, Graham suffered the ACL tear that forced the microfracture surgery. Many athletes have been forced to have it and some have never been the same afterward. They lose speed, explosiveness and confidence.

Graham now admits all of the above in his disappointing return midway through last season. But when you asked him last season, he said it wasn't an issue. "That was just me being competitive, man," he said. "Last year, I really wanted it. I wanted to be part of the team. But it's obvious I had to wait a whole year to come back. Now that I got that all taken care of I'm just building every day to try and gain back what I had."

He is 20 pounds lighter, the result of rounds and rounds of offseason boxing work at Detroit's Knockout Gym. He has wowed the weight-room crowd with a bench press of 465, or 200 pounds more than his current weight, and a squat of 405. Depression over the length and limits of his recovery, which he now admits to, has given way to the kind of enthusiasm he brought to that first training camp, albeit with an edge.

A month later and even a pound or two lighter, Graham smiled when I asked him what the reaction has been since his comments went viral. "Some people were like, ‘No you're not a bust.' Then others were like, ‘You're right.' It's all good. I laugh at it now because I'm finally able to defend myself. Because I'm out there on the field every day."

Laugh? OK, yeah. But the man also sounds angry. Angry about the injury, and the damage it has done to both his career and reputation. There's also the crowded lot he now finds himself in, after the Eagles drafted two more defensive linemen, adding to what was already a crowded and accomplished group.

That's the gist of the "bust" comment. He wants a last laugh. A big one. I asked him if all of it, the nasty tweets, the comparisons with the 16.5-sack guy up the turnpike has made him an angrier guy than before. "All this is motivation, man," he said. "It's hard not to pay attention to what people are saying because you hear it every day. Everything is motivation to me. Because everything was negative towards me. Because I couldn't do nothing. I hurt myself and couldn't play last year so I heard all the negative things you probably could hear.

“But at the same time, until you can do something about it …"

He can now. He can rewrite his own story. Or at least change the ending.

"I just told myself every day to block it out as best as I could," Graham said. "And work at the little things I needed to work to get back. And now that I'm back I'm feeling real good. And I just can't wait."

Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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