Brandon Graham did not enjoy the first time he was a part of an Eagles defense that featured the wide-nine alignment. His disdain wasn't for the scheme, though, as much as it was his former defensive line coach: Jim Washburn. Washburn had a reputation for being very hard on his players. That might even be understating it.
"The low point [of my career] was when [Washburn] was here," Graham said last summer. "That was my low point. Because Wash would make you feel bad, like you can’t play at all. I think once they broke him up and they finally gave me the opportunity, I was kind of in a better mood of just trying to go out there and do what I can."
Graham moved to 3-4 outside linebacker the season after Washburn got fired but now he's back to being a defensive end in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme. The good news for Graham is that he appears to have a much better relationship with his new defensive line coach than he did with Washburn.
"I love him, man," said Graham when asked about his initial impression of Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson. "I think he’s a guy that’s going to get us better. He’s all about the basics and all about the little, tiny things. For us, that’s all we can ask for, is a coach that’s going to coach us on the little things as far as footwork, hand placement, things like that. All the little basic stuff you tend to forget when you get to this level because people expect you to know and do it on your own. With him, he’s definitely a technician."
So does Wilson go easier on the players than Washburn did?
"Everybody’s different," he explained. "For me, I just think he’s a real cool guy until you take him there. He sees already that we come to work every day so he treats us like men. And when he’s gotta treat us like a child because we’re acting like a child, that’s when he’s gotta step in and be the daddy. [laughs]"
Graham entered the 2015 season as a full-time starter for the first time since being selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. He finished with a career-high of 6.5 sacks. Graham has spent time running with the second team this spring, but he figures to be a part of a heavy defensive end rotation that also features Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry. Graham rightly thinks the new scheme caters to his strengths.
"That’s what I’ve been playing all my life, 4-3 end," he said. "Rushing the quarterback, setting the edge against the run, making plays in the backfield, [tackles for loss], things like that. I’m excited. I’m really excited about where we’re headed as far as the defense."
"It’s attack and it’s defense. That’s the biggest difference, too. You don’t have to really think about nothing other than you know the play, run it, and go get where you need to be. Do your job and then make a play. It allows you to play a lot faster. You don’t really have to think as much, especially up front. It’s really predicated off of … the linebackers basically fill in the areas where we’re not. They read off us, as long as we’re on the same page with them. Sometimes we do little different techniques and we might have to work with linebacker like I might have to switch a gap with him because I see something and he’ll replace him. Stuff like that.
"It’s all about communicating out there, and after a while, letting it become our defense. Because that’s what Schwartz says. ‘I’m not out there, I just make the call, y’all work out there while y’all together. Y’all got tools that y’all can use.’ I really like the communication we’ve been having because that’s always big in the game."