Eagles' Graham eager for more playing time

Brandon Graham is starting to get more playing time on the defense.
Brandon Graham is starting to get more playing time on the defense. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 16, 2012

AFTER 3 WEEKS without a sack, it might be time for the Eagles to consider a change along the defensive line. Brandon Graham's playing time was already on the rise - maybe they should shake things up, and accelerate that process.

While no Eagles lineman exactly stood out on Sunday against Detroit, Graham was active in his 21 snaps, notching a tackle and three quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. If you exclude the Giants game - when Cullen Jenkins' play earned him increased action - Graham's snap count has risen each week.

Graham was one of the important stories from training camp. Finally fully recovered from an ACL tear, he was determined to shake the bust label that many had pinned on him.

"I felt real confident because of the offseason workouts and how I did in those," Graham said last week. "I felt back to myself. I wasn't really thinking a lot about my knee."

Graham played only four snaps in the opener in Cleveland. But since, he has gradually played his way onto the field, prompting line coach Jim Washburn to say last week that the former first-rounder needed more reps. Graham's 21 plays on the field against the Lions were a season high.

Andy Reid said on Monday that he plans to "tear things apart" during the bye week, even entertaining the idea of activating rookie Vinny Curry to help the pass rush. At this point, there are no more excuses. With seven sacks, the Eagles rank 30th in the NFL.

While Curry is an unknown, the Eagles know what they have in Graham. They traded up in the first round to draft him in 2010 out of Michigan and appear to have maintained confidence in him throughout his injury issues. If the starting ends keep failing to sack anyone, it bears watching when, or whether, the Eagles try to cash in on their investment.

For Graham, his return to relevance has been about more than just getting healthy. He played in 13 games as a rookie and had only three sacks, hardly an impressive number for the 13th overall pick. Sickened by two offseasons of being dubbed a bust, Graham says his mental development off the field has helped to produce results on it.

"I do extra now - just knowing what is coming," he said. "That is one thing I didn't do as much my rookie year - study film as much. Now I'm on it. Now I can call out a lot of things. I will jump in inside the tight end, because I knew the play was going away - that type of stuff. Just evolving my game more and more."

While it hasn't translated into sacks, Graham had five hurries against Pittsburgh, prompting Washburn to praise his "rush percentage."

Graham clearly thinks he is ready to play more. Ask him what he can do to accomplish that, and he will smile. He knows he has more accomplished players - teammates whom he respects - above of him on the depth chart.

"Right now, I want to keep my body fresh, I guess," he said, grinning. "That is the plus side of it, and I am looking at the plus side of things."

But those more accomplished teammates aren't producing. And they aren't getting any younger. Three of the four starters along the line - Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Jenkins - are 30 or older. When pressed about it on Monday, however, Reid would not say his starters are declining with age.

"We're not getting the sacks that we need to get," Reid said. "We tried to work some blitzes in throughout the game to try to add to that to give them opportunities to be singled up. The majority of the time, they were singled up in this game here and it wasn't as much double teams."

In short, the defensive line didn't get the job done. And once Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford got going in the fourth quarter, it cost the Eagles the game.

And with Atlanta's Matt Ryan and New Orleans' Drew Brees on the horizon after the bye, they need to figure it out quickly.

Whether he is part of the solution or not, Graham is concentrated on improving. He knows that if he gets better, his time will come.

"I think those plays will bump up more as we keep going, as long as I just keep going as hard as I can and turning those pressures into sacks," he said. "I feel like I keep getting better each week."

One method of expediting Graham's development is to give him more playing time. The Eagles haven't had a sack in 13 quarters. What do they have to lose?


Contact Alex Lee at leea@phillynews.com.

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