He’s one part defensive end, one part locker room sage. And Brandon Graham believes both roles are crucial to who he is as a football player and a person.
Graham, now beginning his 12th season with the Eagles, isn’t just one of the best defensive ends in Eagles history, he’s a sounding board for all the young players on the defense, especially his boys on the d-line.
Considering all he’s been through – getting benched early in his career, feuding with former defensive line coach Jim Washburn, not becoming a full-time starter until his sixth season, not becoming a Pro Bowler until his 11thseason – Graham has a unique perspective on persistence and determination.
And it’s important for him to share all the lessons he learned along the way.
“I just want to make sure I (share) it with the young guys and pass it on,” Graham said after practice Tuesday. “Because I had T-Cole (Trent Cole), I had Jason Peters and those guys that helped me every day … and I just try to do the same thing and whoever wants to follow, they’re going to follow, and hopefully one day I come back and they’re in Year 12 and I’m like, ‘Dang, I remember when you was this, look what you’re doing now, you’re passing it on.’
“I’m trying to keep that tradition going of just passing it down to these young guys and I’m like, ‘You got here for a reason, there’s no time to stop now, you just got here and now this is when the work really begins because you made it here but now it’s like what are you going to do? Are you going to just settle for being here or are you going to try to be great?’ You’ve got to be good every day in order to be great. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to them, that mindset.”
Graham is the perfect example for the young guys because he overcame so much adversity to get where he is now.
He started just 13 games and had just 11 ½ sacks in his first five NFL seasons and had to deal with the “bust” tag as the 13th pick in the 2010 draft while being constantly compared to Earl Thomas, who was drafted one pick later.
He had a career year in 2017 at 29 and made his first Pro Bowl last year at 32. So he doesn’t just talk about overcoming adversity. He lived it.
“I think that around Year 7, that’s when people started asking more of me and I just fell into that role,” he said. “And even now I try to make sure I (talk to) the young guys so they can feel a little at ease to let them know, like, we all make mistakes. Even at this age I still make mistakes. But it’s how you shake it off and come back and do it again and this time you try to correct whatever it is that you made a mistake on. I say only the strong survive and it’s all in the mind.”
It didn’t take rookie 6th-round pick Tarron Jackson long to realize that Graham was an invaluable resource.
“It’s great to have somebody that’s already experienced so much stuff, man, so you can kind of learn from it and not make some of the mistakes that he told me he made when he first got into the league,” Jackson said Tuesday.
“So it’s been great to learn from him. He’s a great vet, I come to him all the time if I’m having some issues or something or some techniques I need to work on. He’s the guy for it.”
When Graham finally walks away from the NFL – and he says he wants to play 15 years – his legacy will be the Tom Brady Super Bowl strip-sack, a late-career resurgence that’s seen him average 7 ½ sacks the last four years and one of the longest and most productive careers of any Eagles defensive player ever.
But the B.G. story is about so much more than that.
It’s about staying positive and believing in yourself when nobody else does. It’s about constantly working to improve yourself no matter how many years you have in the league. And it’s about sharing those lessons with anybody willing to listen.
“You know how I started here in the beginning, it was tough,” Graham said. “But for me to still be here, still standing, still playing at a high level, I don’t take it for granted and I try to make sure I pass it down to the young guys that want to listen and want to be great.
“I tell them it ain’t easy but you’ve just got to stay the course, keep working one day at a time and just enjoy what you do because this time flies. And I’m going into Year 12 and I’d trade places with some of these new guys coming in, rookies, just to do it all over again. Because that’s how fast it goes.”