August 30, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy (14) runs away from pressure by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (54) at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Anyone who watches this team can see that there is a something different about them this year. They are winning the close games, the defense is securing victories, and they aren't turning the ball over (ok maybe not the last one).
But according to Brandon Graham, the reason this season has been different is simple- the locker room is better.
“I just think the leadership,” said Graham. “They got everybody out that was the cancer as they say. But I feel like everyone is more focused, determined and we had that taste last year of not going and don’t want to go through that same feeling again this year,”
It's no secret that the Eagles had problems in the locker room last year. I had multiple players last year tell me that the the veteran players did not respect then first-year Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo, and that was a big reason for the defenses struggles.
Reading Graham's quote, it's hard to not think of one name: Asante Samuel. Other than Samuel, there was no real big time departures from the team. Samuel was very vocal last year about his displeasure with the front office and many pointed the finger at him when complaining about the soft style of defense the Eagles played. He was the vocal leader of the defense last year, and given how unhappy he was, it's not a stretch to say that was probably pretty vocal about it behind closed doors when the media wasn't around.
The fact that Graham felt the need to make the comment shows how big of a factor, at least in his eyes, the locker room played in the teams struggles last year. I will say that speaking to the players after the win over Baltimore, I came away thinking of the great leadership this team has- especially from DeMeco Ryans and Kurt Coleman. While Coleman was on the team last year, Ryans was not, and the Eagles were clear to point out on multiple occasions when they brought him in the leadership he brings.
Is it different this year? The results say it is, but this Eagles defense also passes the eye-test. Watching them against the Ravens, it's clear that this unit has a personality this year it didn't last year. It's tough, confident, and not afraid- none of which you could say about it last year.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks