September 9 Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford
“Brandon Graham doesn’t feel your pain.
How could he? Graham, the starting defensive end for the Eagles, was 10 years old when Andy Reid was hired as head coach here. He was in seventh grade, playing youth football, when the Eagles went to the conference championship game for the first time under Reid, the opening aria in what became an opera of frustration. He had just finished his sophomore season in high school when the Eagles took that one tantalizing trip to the Super Bowl.
All those things happened to some other team, not to Graham’s team. His team has never lost a game. Not yet.
Graham is the most visible piece of the Eagles‘ youth movement. The team moved up in the draft to take him with the 13th pick and, like safety Nate Allen, the second-round pick, Graham has developed quickly enough to make the starting lineup. It is the first time under Reid the Eagles have opened the season with two rookie starters on defense.
For them, and for all 16 rookies and first-year players on the roster, what happened here before has no frame of reference. Donovan McNabb is just another former Pro Bowl player whose picture hangs along the back corridor leading to the cafeteria. McNabb, Randall Cunningham, Ron Jaworski. All the same to them.
Good things happened here, but not the best thing, which is why the team is in the slightly awkward situation of celebrating the 50th anniversary of its last league championship.
“From me looking at the past, I know they were always coming up short,” Graham said. “Hopefully, me and Nate can help bring that extra step that they need. Just try to get better every week and get on a run for the championship.”
It seems that simple and it seems that possible for Graham, and perhaps that’s how it will turn out. So far, the plan has been proceeding. He was moved ahead of Juqua Parker at the left end position midway through the exhibition season, and his goals are lofty. He already predicted he’ll get at least one sack against the Packers on Sunday, and his goal for the season is to record two per game.
“Out of 50-some plays, I feel like I can get two sacks,” he said.
That would, of course, shatter the NFL record (22.5, Michael Strahan, 2001), and more than double the rookie record (14.5, Jevon Kearse, 1999), but there’s nothing wrong with thinking big.
“You’ve got to have some fun with it,” Graham said. “You’ve got to dream about taking [the quarterback] down. I’m just telling you what I’m dreaming. I want to be a factor the whole game and get to the ball.”
Graham has been used in practice and during the exhibition games on the inside, at the tackle position, on some obvious passing downs. The Eagles have had trouble getting pressure from the middle of the line, and Graham could keep himself on the field more often if he is successful with it.
“I like it a lot, but you’re dealing with some big boys in there,” Graham said. “You have to make sure you use your hands and come off the line really fast. The first one who hits the other in the chest is going to win.””
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