If rumors are any indication, there’s a strong chance the Philadelphia Eagles will draft a defensive end in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Such a selection might surprise some, but not Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Graham in a press conference on Tuesday. “I want them to bring in whoever’s going to help us win. I’ve been here eight years, I want to be a part of something great, and that’s bringing a championship to Philly. Whoever they feel is fit at that position, I’m just excited to bring them in and welcome them. Because I don’t want us to go out and here say ‘Oh, we didn’t have the sacks they wanted.’ I want the guys they bring in here to help us right away. If they feel that’s what we need, then that’s what we gonna do.”
Graham certainly isn’t the Eagles general manager or anything close to it, but nonetheless the eight-year veteran was asked about pass rushers in this year’s class and he weighed in.
“I like Derek Barnett. I’ve been looking at some of his highlights. I like [DeMarcus] Walker from Florida State. He’s pretty good. He beat us up at Michigan at the bowl game. I like [Jordan] Willis from Kansas State. I like him. For me, I think those three is who I’ve really been watching because those [are] big guys and I think they’re relentless. They’re effort guys.”
The Eagles had Barnett in for a pre-draft visit earlier this week. They’ve reportedly shown interest in Willis as well. Maybe Graham knows something, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Graham also mentioned a player from the school he attended.
“Yeah, Taco too,” added Graham. “You know, it’s deep. There’s a lot of guys. That was just off the top of my head. But yeah, Taco, I believe has got the body that you want. I think that he plays hard. Just really for me, I didn’t want to be biased because he went to Michigan [laughs].”
Notably absent from Graham’s list of players is potential Eagles target Charles Harris. There’s been a lot of buzz about Harris to Philadelphia recently.
While Graham wouldn’t be surprised if the team drafted a defensive end, does he think the position is a need for the Eagles?
“For me, I’m going to go with the guys I got in that room right now,” he said. “Whoever they feel — we always treat people like family. But I feel like we can get it done with the guys in our room right now.”
Graham touched on this topic and more in his press conference. Read on for a complete transcript.
DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO STEP UP AS A LEADER MORE WITH CONNOR BARWIN AND BENNIE LOGAN GONE?
Yeah I need to make sure I step up this year. Make sure I be more vocal, especially off the field. You know, on the field I do talk a lot and I have fun with it. I think I’ma bring that same approach off the field. Kinda help those guys coming in, try to feel at home, because that’s what it’s all about.
DOES THAT LEADERSHIP HAVE TO BE ORGANIC?
Well I gotta build my trust with the new guys coming in. I think I’ve got a lot of trust with some of the guys that’s here already. I think for me, I just gotta make sure in those moments when I, when somebody needs to step it up as far as being a leader or saying something, I want to make sure I embrace that role and be comfortable in those moments to be able to speak. Because I know a lot of people look for me to say a lot of things to get things going.
DO YOU THINK YOU’LL MOVE TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE DEFENSE OR STAY AT YOUR CURRENT SPOT?
I mean, I’ve been practicing at the right side too, because I’ve noticed that too. It’s either whatever Vinny [Curry] wants or [Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson] wants. Or for whoever kind of wants to switch sides. It don’t matter. I feel like I play both. I feel like I’ve done well [on] both sides. It’s just all about getting the reps and making sure that I get comfortable again with the other side.
DOES IT MATTER WHICH SIDE YOU PLAY CONSIDERING THERE ARE GOOD LEFT TACKLES IN THE NFC EAST?
Uh naw. We in the business to compete. I think running away from competition is not me. And it’s never going to be me while I’m playing. I think wherever they want to put me, I’ma go out there and I’ma make plays and I’ma help this team win.
WHAT KIND OF VOID DOES CONNOR BARWIN LEAVE BEHIND?
Well you know Connor was great in the community, Connor was great on the field, that’s a guy that you always want to have on your team. I think Chris Long is coming in, he’s going to help boost the pass rush the same way Connor did. I think it’s just all about reloading and making sure we have people come in with the same mindset we all tried to lead when Connor was here. I think Connor’s going to be a great fit out there with the … Rams. I don’t know why I couldn’t think of their name. The new Los Angeles Rams. [laughs] And I think Chris Long, this is his style of defense that he’s playing. It’s not going to be too much of a drop off. It’s just all about replacing a guy like him and it’s kinda hard sometimes.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A LEADER?
First you gotta show them that you came here to work every day. Yes, you know, you’re going to have bad days, but at the end of the day, you gotta gain their trust by what you put out there on tape and then out there on the practice field. I think, for me, everybody knows, as much as I’ve been here, I want to win. And I want to get to the quarterback, I want to make sure we get him down this year. I think for me, in those moments when I feel something needs to be said, don’t run away from that and say what I need to say. Because a lot of guys will be expecting me to and I didn’t realize that til last year. So I’ma make sure I do that this year.
ARE YOU EXPECTING VINNY TO STEP UP AND BE A STARTER THIS YEAR?
I think Vinny’s been working hard, I can tell just by his body already. He’s looking real lean. He’s looking ready. His mindset is a lot different in the last year. He’s going into it with a positive attitude. I think for him, he’s going to make that leap that we’ve all been waiting for and that he’s been waiting for. I think I’ma be right there to cheer him on and make sure that he continues to keep working hard each and every day.
WHY DID YOU HAVE LESS SACKS IN THE 4-3 DEFENSE LAST SEASON THAN IN THE PAST THREE SEASONS WITH THE 3-4 DEFENSE? HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT INCREASING THE SACK TOTAL?
I think we just need to do our jobs the best we can and not worry about nothing else. I think, like last year, we started off hot and we just was kinda looking for the sacks a little too much, I guess. The worry was a little too much on sacks other than just going out there and playing freely like we was in the beginning when there was no expectations. I think our coach does a great job of keeping us grounded and making sure that we focus on the task at hand. I think with the leadership of me, Fletch[er Cox], and you know Chris [Long] now in our room, I think it’s going to trickle down where we’re going to go out there and play and not worry about nothing and just have fun. Because when you’re having fun you don’t be tight and you go out there and make a lot more plays than you would just thinking about it.
THIS IS YOUR EIGHTH YEAR. HAS YOUR CAREER GONE THE WAY YOU THINK IT WOULD HAVE AT THIS POINT?
Well for me, I don’t regret no years man. I learned a lot, especially when I got hurt. I learned how to deal with adversity. That was my first really big time deal of adversity I have ever had to face because I came in and I’d never really have been hurt, never had surgery. First, come in, have to get knee surgery, then have to come all the way back from it because it was hard. I think even going through [former Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn], when I came back, was good because I had a hard-nosed coach that didn’t take too much, wasn’t going to give it to me. So I had to work really hard during that time. I learned during that time. I think once everything started to happen for me … it’s been a good road for me. And it’s groomed me to be this man today and this leader today. And I’m excited to show it this year because I’ve got big expectations for our team this year. I’ve got to make sure I do what I can as a leader to help.
THE KNEE SURGERY, THAT WAS A MICROFRACTURE?
Yeah, I had microfracture knee surgery.
NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE COME BACK FROM THAT.
Yeah, and you know, it feels a lot stronger. I mean nobody really panicked until after I got it done and everything kind of came out. They were saying ‘alright, it was a bad knee injury. We don’t know if you’re going to come back from it.’ But really that wasn’t ever on my mind. I was just always trying to figure when the time I was able to feel good again and be able to fight back. Because you know, there was a lot of people saying a lot of things. I didn’t like a lot of the fans coming at me the way they was, but I mean it taught me a lot. It showed me a lot. I think now I feel a lot stronger, especially because a lot of people definitely wrote me off. I’m excited.
DO YOU THINK PLAYING ALONGSIDE A MORE CONVENTIONAL OFFENSE LAST YEAR HELPED? COMPARED TO THE PREVIOUS THREE YEARS?
I think yes. We was off the field a lot more than when we was in previous years. I think that’s just a credit to Carson [Wentz] and how they managed the game, the coaches and stuff. I think, for us, I was a lot more fresher. I was able to be out there a lot more, play a lot more snaps and not really feel as tired two days after the game. It wasn’t as bad because of our rotation already. I think with Year 2, everybody is going to make a big leap, especially the ones that have been through this defense. I think as a d-lineman, this is what you live for. Not too many responsibilities, just getting after it and using your athleticism to get to the quarterback.
NOW THAT YOU’RE THE STARTER, WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
My next step is to make sure that I get the quarterback down. I think I missed a lot of sacks last year. I think, for me, it’s just making sure I work on my technique a lot better. Because when I look back at it, it’s sometimes when I missed it’s because I wasn’t as violent as I should have been in certain times. Just critiquing myself, working on my technique, and making sure that I do what I’m supposed to. Because the effort is there, it’s really just taking that next step of being a technician.
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF BEING DRAFTED?
Interviews, interviews, and more interviews. I think I met with 26 of the 32 [NFL teams]. It was a fun experience for me because, like you say, if you’re not getting talked to that’s something you need to worry about. But I think for me I embraced that role as far as just having fun because I knew one day I would miss it. Like it always brings back memories when times like this come up. I always think back to the draft. And how fast things move because I’m eight years in now. I think just for me, going back to it I wanted to make sure that when I came in, that I didn’t say too much, just go out there and work hard and gain the trust of my teammates. I think I did in the beginning and then when I got hurt it kind of set me back some. But I needed to learn during that situation. And then coming back from that injury I gained a lot of trust back.
HOW ABOUT WHEN YOU GOT THE CALL? DO YOU REMEMBER THAT?
Oh yeah. The call, the call was really good. Coach [Andy] Reid was on the phone, just hearing him, saying ‘Congratulations.’ You’ve got Howie [Roseman] on there talking, and they were getting ready for me to come out the next day. It was just, everything moved real fast. Harold Carmichael had me in the car, we was talking for a little bit coming across the bridge. And then we went to Ike Reese’s show right there when the King [Howard Eskin] was over there [on SportsRadio 94WIP], and we was at the stadium and I did a couple interviews and I interviewed with you guys, came in, shaking hands, I was excited. So I can remember it like it was yesterday.
HOW CLOSE DO YOU THINK THE EAGLES ARE TO THE PLAYOFFS?
I think we’re very close as far as our mindset. You know, that never changed. I think everybody’s heart is in the right place I think Howie and those guys bring in a lot of good character guys. People that kind of mold what we believe in on this team. I think after the draft, once the whole roster is set, I think I’ll be better at answering that question once we kind of get out there on the field.
DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL CLOSELY?
Oh yeah, I watch college football a lot. Every week, every week we’re always having fun in the locker room talking about other teams. Because that’s the way we kind of keep it fun, watching the games and kind of talking about people that lost because they went there and stuff like that.
THE EAGLES LOST SOME STARTERS THIS OFFSEASON ON DEFENSE AND DIDN’T NECESSARILY REPLACE THEM ALL. HAVE YOU WONDERED WHEN THE TEAM WOULD ADDRESS DEFENSE?
Yeah. For me, once we get our roster it don’t matter. I feel like somebody that’s been here that we not thinking about right now is going to step up. I think every year we always find out there’s a guy in Year 2 or Year 3 that kind of gets it. Because I’ve been through that. A lot of guys didn’t think I was going to pan out to where I did. It’s all about how hard they work in the year. What people can do in a year is amazing sometimes with the mindset of just going out there and working hard and then it just tends to translate on the field. I’m just waiting for that next guy that’s been here to step up, so we thought we had an area where we had concern, but it’s a guy who stepped up that we didn’t know about. So I’m just waiting on that guy.
COULD THAT GUY BE MARCUS SMITH?
It could be Marcus.
WHAT DOES HE HAVE TO DO TO BECOME MORE OF A PART OF THAT ROTATION?
It could be Marcus because I see how hard he’s worked. Once we get to camp you really see that flash of who’s going to be that guy. Because everybody looks good in OTA’s, everybody comes in in shape. But it’s just, camp is really when you can get a good base of what people’s mindset is going to be for the year. Are they going to quit when they get tired? Or are they going to be that same guy last year, are they complacent with the same things that they did last year? You can tell. You can just tell by what some people do after practice, what some people do during practice. I’m just waiting to see who that guy is going to be. Ask me again during camp and I can probably give you a good light of who that guy is.