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June 05, 2019

Eagles DE Brandon Graham says 2019 is a 'double-digit year'

Eagles NFL

Brandon Graham may be 31-years-old and entering his 10th NFL season — but you wouldn't know it from talking to him.

Always smiling, always optimistic and never shy, the All-Pro former first-round pick acts like he knows how lucky he is to play football for a living.

"We are going to have a party out there this year on the field," Graham said during some down time at OTAs. "We have to have fun — we are kids playing a game, we have to have a kid-like mentality. We have to have fun [because] we have the best job in America."

Graham's story is an unusual one for an NFL player. After a slow start and much criticism, BG was a late bloomer and has slowly become one of the better pass-rushers in the league. 

A key contributor to the Eagles' triumph in Super Bowl LII, he's just missing two things from his resume: double digit sacks, and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

[This is a] double-digit year, " Graham, who has been a Pro Bowl alternate in the past but has never been voted in, said. "It's my 10th year and I am trying to crack double digits in sacks. I feel really good about achieving that with the coach we got [defensive line coach Phillip Daniels] and with the group we got with Malik [Jackson] and Fletch [Fletcher Cox] in the middle, it's going to be a problem. 

"It's been right there," Graham continued, looking back at his 9.5 sack season in 2017 (a career high). "That year I remember against the 49ers they had said I grabbed him by the facemask and it was a penalty. If I had gotten that one, it's 10.5. That's another chip, people don't think I can get it and I love proving them wrong. 

"My goal is to finish out this contract and be a three-time Pro Bowler. And once you get there, you have to keep up that play. I am just excited to be here and healthy — last year I wasn't as healthy as I would like but no excuses. I ended up working myself back and it's on me."

As Graham said, he's going to have some help as he reaches for the 10-sack milestone. The duo of Cox (who had his 10-sack season in 2018), and Jackson (he had eight in 2017) will likely give him quite a few one-on-one match ups. Graham and fellow defensive end Derek Barnett will be cycled through Jim Schwartz' rotation each game during the season, but without Chris Long and Michael Bennett, the top guys may benefit from more reps. 

Here's the defensive line rotation, according to our beat writer Jimmy Kempski's depth chart:

 LDEBrandon Graham Shareef Miller (R) Daeshon Hall 
 DTFletcher Cox Treyvon HesterHassan RidgewayAnthony Rush (R)
 DT Malik Jackson Timmy JerniganBruce Hector Kevin Wilkins (R)
 RDEDerek Barnett Vinny Curry Josh Sweat Joe Ostman

Vinny Curry is a clear No. 3, with youngsters Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller also likely to see field time. But on key downs and on most downs, Graham should be on the field — and will be able to chase his numbers. And on the most sack-friendly down, third-and long, Schwartz likes lining up three or four defensive ends across the line to create mismatches on obvious passing downs. 

"Obviously, Brandon, he's kind of the heart and soul of this football team," head coach Doug Pederson said of his veteran defensive end.

The addition of Curry, who started his career in Philly before spending last season in Tampa, brings a little extra chemistry back to the D-line, something Graham thinks will add a little juice.

"I love it," he said. "Me and Vinny were just talking about that, how you got a guy who grew into his position just like me. That chemistry grew together — me Fletch, Vinny, Beau [Allen] was here for a while, that chemistry is real. I am happy Vinny was able to come back."

The other part of Graham's double-digit statement, by the way, is his decade-completing season as part of the Eagles' defense. And when asked about Graham hitting that 10-year mark, head coach Doug Pederson opened up about how important BG is, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well.

"Obviously, Brandon, he's kind of the heart and soul of this football team," Pederson, who was a quality control coach under Andy Reid back in 2010 when Graham was drafted, said. "With his energy every single day and what he brings to the defense, what he brings from a leadership standpoint to our team, it's pretty impressive that he's played this long. Really, to me, he can go several more years. I really do believe that.  

"He's one that — you know, his career might have got off a little shaky, but I'll tell you what, he has come on. The way he trains, the way he works, he's got everything in perspective, and that's important for players, especially at that age, that what's really important to him. Obviously, his family is huge and a big part of his life and keeping all that in perspective, but also coming to work every day, trying to improve and helping the young guys to improve. It's a credit, and I love having him around."

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