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Birds Down Two Starters Up Front ... Who Takes Their Places?
As the Eagles prepare to move beyond Sunday’s 17-11 home loss to the 49ers and shift focus toward a prime-time road showdown against the Cowboys on Monday night at AT&T Stadium, they’ll do so without two of their most crucial components for the foreseeable future.
“Brandon Graham, he did rupture his Achilles,” head coach Nick Sirianni confirmed on Monday. “We’ll be without him. He’ll be out for the year.
“Brandon Brooks, he strained his pec. We’re thinking he’s probably going to go to [injured reserve] but it’s not a season-ending injury.”
Graham’s absence will not only test the team’s edge depth, but also its leadership, on and off the field. In addition to serving as the bedrock of an ever-fluctuating defense for more than a decade, the Pro Bowl pass rusher was named last month a team captain for the third time in five seasons.
A combination of Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan will look to fill Graham’s void, though any replacement would be hard-pressed to replicate Graham’s vigorous motor, infectious energy, and unique ability to both set the edge and anchor against the run.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss the heck out of BG. He is the heart and soul of this team,” Nick Sirianni said in his weekly Monday press conference. “Look forward for guys stepping up, different guys leading, just a continued role for Fletcher Cox to lead. I think he’s a great leader. He’s been sharing that with BG, now he gets to take over that on the field to run that defense and help run that defense.
“So, look forward to everybody that gets an opportunity to step up in the absence of Brandon Graham. But, we’ll definitely miss Brandon and he’ll be missed throughout the entire building.”
Brooks, who missed the 2019 postseason with a separated shoulder and the entirety of the 2020 season with an Achilles injury, made an impressively fast return in time for the season opener, returning to form before exiting Sunday’s game. Though the three-time Pro Bowler will be shelved for weeks, the Eagles have a pair of capable alternatives in second-round pick Landon Dickerson and third-year pro Nate Herbig.
Appearing in his first game action since sustaining a knee injury in the 2020 SEC Championship Game, Dickerson entered the game in relief of Brooks. Dickerson’s athleticism flashed on occasion but the 22-year-old largely looked like a prospect who hadn’t played in a game in nine months. Still, he gained 33 snaps of pro experience.
Herbig, who started 12 games at right guard last season, watched as Dickerson played his first snaps at a position in which he manned adequately last season. The versatile lineman doesn’t possess Dickerson’s athleticism or upside but his experience could potentially factor into the decision-making process this week.
Given that Dickerson is merely nine months removed from a knee injury, one could make a case that it’s far more logical to give the nod to Herbig in the interim until Dickerson further develops under renowned offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland’s tutelage and better adjusts to the pro level.
Herbig last season finished third on the team in snaps (893) and showed signs of progression. He’d need little acclimation ahead of the prime-time matchup. While Herbig didn’t previously meet the requirements of the quick, fluid lineman Stoutland prefers, he returned for his third training camp far more leaner and agile, having lost more than 30 pounds.
Sirianni didn’t say if he’d rethink his decision to play Dickerson at right guard but he also didn’t commit to the rookie from Alabama.
“Yeah, obviously everything is a discussion,” Sirianni said. “We’re just in the early game – we watch the tape [Monday] morning, and now we’re in the early game plan part before the players come in [Tuesday] on Dallas.
“Nothing is final there. I don’t want to say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be Landon, it’s going to be Nate,’ one way or the other right now, because we’re not there yet”
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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