Ol’ Reliable: 12-Year Vet Graham Still Leads Way For Fearsome Birds D-Line
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham is primed for his 12th NFL season, but even at 33 years old the veteran pass-rusher remains a vital component to his team’s success.
The team’s edge-rushing mainstay, who was recently named a captain for the third time in five years, anchors an elite defensive line under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
While many of the position groups have been retooled during the typical transitional period of a new regime, the Eagles have remained committed to its long-standing philosophy of fortifying the trenches.
“We talk about that every year,” Graham said Wednesday after practice as the Eagles prepare for their Week 1 game in Atlanta agains the Flacons. “We’re the engine that runs this team, [offensive line and defensive line]. And how we play up front, that’s how this team is gonna go.
“Because you wanna have a running game, you wanna be able stop the run, and it’s gonna start with your knock-back on both sides of the ball. If you’re knockin’ ’em off the ball, you’re gonna average 3-to-5 every time.
“But if we’re the ones up front knockin’ ‘em back on defense, it’s gonna be a lot of TFLs. So it’s all about us just playing as a cohesive unit, getting off [the line] at the same time, using our hands, technique, and just having that want-to to get to the ball. So it does start with us every time.”
As the second and third levels of Gannon’s defense remain under reconstruction, the time-tested front four must play to its potential each week to mask the back end’s limitations and to keep the team in the expected season-long race for the NFC East title.
Graham, fresh off of the first Pro Bowl berth of his career, accentuates a diverse position group that also includes 2017 first-rounder Derek Barnett, the ascending Josh Sweat, and a four-time Pro Bowler in backup Ryan Kerrigan.
Although it’s expected that Gannon will implement a steady rotation to promote longevity and production, the first-year coordinator has the luxury of scheming around the ever-consistent Graham.
If Graham’s finally entering the twilight of his career, one would be hard-pressed to see the drop-off coming.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound edge defender uses his powerful base to set the edge against the run, plays with a relentless motor, and wins with leverage.
While Graham has always lacked prototype size, those aforementioned traits and savvy have enabled him to evolve into an annually disruptive force and to carve out a storied career.
Against an overmatched offensive line of the Atlanta Falcons, Graham and his cohorts should be positioned to thrive in Sunday’s opener. However, Graham is approaching his next challenge just as he’s done for the past 11 seasons.
“I feel like every week is an opportunity,” he said, “especially up front because it starts with us. But we gotta make sure that we go out there and prove it. So I think for me, and what I’m trying to do, is make sure that we’re already in the best shape that we can.
“Because it’s the first game, you know [Atlanta’s] gonna come out fast, they’re gonna try to wear us down. Just make sure that you do your job the best you can. And make sure that whatever gadgets or whatever they’re doing, that you don’t get tricked by it. And just go out and play your game.”
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