Hampered by injuries, Graham eager to earn praise, not scorn

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"Next year, no more excuses. Gotta get it done," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. (Michael Perez/AP)

In case you missed it, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for the second time in 3 weeks. A day earlier, Pierre-Paul, who has 15 1/2 sacks in this, only his second season, was named to his first Pro Bowl.

I mention this, because, well, if you're an Eagles fan, you know why I'm mentioning it. Two Aprils ago, the Eagles could have had Pierre-Paul. They needed a pass rusher and traded up to the 13th spot in the first round to get one. Had their choice of three guys - Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham and Derrick Morgan.

They opted for Graham. Two picks later, the Giants took Pierre-Paul.

Graham struggled as a rookie, then tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December. Ended up needing microfracture surgery, which is not a good thing for a 22-year-old edge-rusher to need.

He spent the first seven games of this season on the Eagles' physically unable to perform list before being added to the 53-man roster in early November. He has dressed for only four of eight games and has been used sparingly in those. His 2011 stats: four tackles, zero sacks, one hurry.

Considering how well Pierre-Paul is playing, it would be easy to rip Andy Reid and Howie Roseman right now for their decision to take Graham over him. Easy, but not fair.

Graham's knee injury was just rotten luck. If he didn't get hurt last year, maybe he would be an integral part of the Eagles' pass rush right now. Maybe he'd have double-digit sacks. Maybe he'd be going to the Pro Bowl, too.

Then again, maybe not. But because of the knee injury, we don't know yet whether the Eagles made a mistake when they took Graham over Pierre-Paul. If you want to rip them for reaching for Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round last April and thinking he would be able to step in and start as a rookie, be my guest.

If you want to rip them for drafting a project cornerback (Curtis Marsh) in the third round, take your best shot.

If you want to rip them for wasting a third-round pick in 2010 on Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, have a go at it. But reserve judgment on Graham for a little while, until the knee is completely healed, until he has a chance to show us whether he can play.

"I knew it was going to really take a full year for me to start feeling really good; feeling back to normal," Graham said. "But I just wanted to get out there because of the team we had. You're a first-round guy. You want to get out there and you want to show what you're made of.

"But sometimes it takes patience. And that's what I've got to do. Be patient. Because I know what I can do. Next year, no more excuses. Gotta get it done."

While it's easy to say now that the Eagles should have taken Pierre-Paul over Graham, it wasn't so easy 20 months ago. Pierre-Paul was considered a freakish athlete with a huge ceiling. But many considered him a boom-or-bust guy.

He had played only 1 year at the University of South Florida after transferring from junior college.

"He had a lot of talent, but he had only done it 1 year," an AFC personnel man said. "And his background was real sketchy. We interviewed him at the combine and came away thinking that this guy was going to need a lot of help."

Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's respected draft analyst, had Pierre-Paul rated above Graham, but he understood why some teams, including the Eagles, had reservations.

"Pierre-Paul, to me, I thought, was worth the risk because it's one thing if you have freakish ability and you're a dog," Mayock said. "But this kid wasn't a dog. He had a great motor.

"I remember watching a tape of him against the University of Pittsburgh. He had a bad first half against Pitt. He played against a physical tight end who beat on him all day. And then, in the second half, I thought the kid learned from it and came back and had a heck of a half.

"My take on him was he had a really big upside, and because he had a good work ethic, he was going to end up being a really good football player."

And Graham?

"Brandon, to me, was a different kind of player. My comparison to him was [Steelers linebacker] LaMarr Woodley. Part of it was the Michigan uniform, I'm sure, and his body type. I thought he had a chance to be a consistent starting defensive end. Not with the same upside as Pierre-Paul, but I thought he could be a good player in this league.

"It's hard to ding the Eagles for taking him, because you couldn't predict that kind of injury. He didn't have an injury situation at Michigan. I think he still has a chance to be a good player for them if he can come back from the injury. He's got a good burst and he plays hard. He doesn't have the elite get-off and acceleration of a [Dwight] Freeney or any of those freakish guys.

"However, when you look at [Jason] Babin and what they're doing, he can be that kind of guy. Because he's got a good motor. He's got enough get-off and athleticism and quickness that he can be effective."

Graham can't wait for the offseason to train and prepare for next season. He has something to prove to himself and to the people who think the Eagles made a mistake in drafting him.

"I'm going to put it all in the bank, put all my money [hard work] in the bank in the offseason and it's going to show next year," he vowed.

Graham plans to spend the winter and early spring in Ann Arbor, Mich., working with Mike Barwis, who was UM's strength-and-conditioning coach when Graham played there. He weighs about 270 right now. Wants to shed about 10 pounds so he can be more effective in defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine.

"I want to get down to 260; I mean a good 260," he said. "I'm going to start right away [as soon as the season ends], because I didn't really get banged up this year. Got all practice work, not much game work."

The Eagles haven't given up on Graham. They are hopeful he will be the player next season that they expected him to be when they drafted him.

"Brandon's a good player," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. "He's coming back from that [knee] injury and sometimes injuries take time. The thing that's been hard, too, is . . . he wasn't able to practice initially. You take that time, the fundamentals, the technique, all of those things away, [then] all of those other guys are ahead, because they've had all of that work.

"You say, 'God, he's a first-round draft pick.' But still, there's some technique that goes into getting up the field, and then reacting to stuff, the pass rush. And those guys are ahead, because they've been with 'coach Wash' longer than Brandon has been able to work with him. Once coach Washburn has time to work with Brandon, he will be doing the same thing."

FIGURING THE EAGLES

* LeSean McCoy has a league-high 48 runs of 10 yards or more. Twenty-nine of them came in the first seven games, 19 in the last eight.

* Forty-five of McCoy's 273 rushing attempts have resulted in negative yardage, including 30 in the last eight games. He's lost 121 yards on those 45 carries. On his other 228 runs, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

* Nine of McCoy's league-best 17 rushing touchdowns have been 2 yards or fewer. Six have been 10 yards or more.

* McCoy has converted 39 of 51 short-yardage situations (2 yards or less) into first downs or touchdowns this season, including 14 of 17 in the last four games and 29 of 36 in the last 10.

* In his first four starts this season, Michael Vick had a 91.9 passer rating. He had a 61.2 completion percentage and threw six touchdown passes and three interceptions. In his last eight starts, he has a 78.3 passer rating, including a 58.8 completion percentage, nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

* The Eagles are 6-6 in Vick's 12 starts this season. In the six wins, he had a 95.4 passer rating, throwing nine touchdown passes and three interceptions. In the six losses, he had a 72.4 passer rating, and threw six TD passes and 10 interceptions.

* Vick is 27th in the league in third-down passing with a 70.5 passer rating. Has a 57.4 completion percentage and has thrown five TD passes and six interceptions on third down.

2-MINUTE DRILL

From the lip:

* "I can't sit up here and look at it like, 'Oh, man, my critics are racist.' I blame JaMarcus Russell and, to some degree, Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up? I'm trying to be a trailblazer. If Robert Griffin decides to come out, I want people to say he can be the next Cam Newton instead of the next JaMarcus Russell."

- Panthers QB Cam Newton on whether the criticism he received before the draft was racially based

* "[Jon Gruden] was a loudmouth as a coach who constantly disrespected officials, and he is a blowhard in the broadcast booth who spouts off when he doesn't know what he is talking about."

- Former NFL head of officiating and current Fox Sports analyst Mike Pereira on ESPN 'Monday Night Football' analyst Jon Gruden

* "I don't see us throwing the ball 60 times ever again. I don't think any of us could believe we threw it that many times. I know I can't."

- Jets coach Rex Ryan after his QB, Mark Sanchez, dropped back to pass 68 times Saturday in their loss to the Giants

By the numbers:

* Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have combined for an astounding 154 catches, 1,991 yards and 21 touchdown receptions. Of Tom Brady's 576 pass attempts this season, 216 have been aimed at Gronkowski and Hernandez. That's 37.5 percent of his passes. To tight ends. On a team that's second in the league in passing. Who says you can't win in this league without a vertical threat?

* Eli Manning's nine completions against the Jets on Saturday were his fewest in a full game since he completed only seven in a 38-21 win over Buffalo on Dec. 23, 2007.

* David Akers needs nine points in the 49ers' game against Seattle to break Gary Anderson's record for most points in a season by a kicker. Akers has 156. Anderson scored 164 with the Vikings in '98.

* Parity continues to flourish in the NFL. For the 16th straight year, at least five of the league's 12 playoff qualifiers will be teams that weren't in the postseason last year.

* Saints QB Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season Monday night, also broke Peyton Manning's mark for first-down completions. Brees has 257. Manning had 253 last year.

* With a win against the Bills this week, the Patriots' Bill Belichick can become the first coach in NFL history with 13 or more regular-season wins in five different seasons.

* Ravens running back Ray Rice needs only 27 rushing yards and 4 receiving yards against the Bengals on Sunday to join Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only players in history to put up 1,200 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards in multiple seasons. Rice previously did it in '09. Former Eagle Brian Westbrook came within a yard of doing it twice. Rushed for 1,333 yards and had 771 receiving yards in '07. The year before, he rushed for 1,217 yards and had 699 receiving yards.

THAT'S SAYING THUMBTHING

THUMBS UP: To the Ravens, who will give specially designed game balls to three randomly selected fans after the team went undefeated at home for the first time in franchise history. "The credit goes to the players and the coaches, but it also goes to our fans," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. "There's not a better stadium in the league than M&T Bank Stadium. And there's not a better bunch of fans than Ravens fans, especially on game day in Baltimore. On behalf of the players and the coaches, we are giving the game balls to the Ravens fans in this 8-0 [home] season." The Ravens are 27-5 at home in Harbaugh's four seasons as head coach. And to think Syracuse and Boston College wouldn't give this guy an interview for a head-coaching job when he was an Eagles assistant.

THUMBS DOWN: To Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, for feeling the need to go down on the field during Saturday's game against the Eagles and let head coach Jason Garrett know that he could rest his stars, including injured quarterback Tony Romo, after the Giants' win over the Jets made the game meaningless. "That's Jason's decision, but he doesn't need to be making that one by himself," Jones said. "I wanted to, very briefly, step down there and say, 'Here is the lay of the land. Romo's got a hand injury, but it looks like we're going to have him for New York [this week].' " He needed to grand-stand and go down on the field to do that? Why didn't he just go over to the coaches booth and talk to him on his headset?

DOMOWITCH'S NFL RANKINGS

1 Packers 14-1 (1 last week)

2 Saints 12-3 (2)

3 Patriots 12-3 (3)

4 49ers 12-3 (4)

5 Ravens 11-4 (5)

6 Steelers 11-4 (6)

7 Bengals 9-6 (7)

8 Lions 10-5 (8)

9 Falcons 9-6 (9)

10 Texans 10-5 (10)

11 Titans 8-7 (15)

12 Seahawks 7-8 (13)

13 Eagles 7-8 (17)

14 Jets 8-7 (11)

15 Cowboys 8-7 (12)

16 Giants 8-7 (18)

17 Raiders 8-7 (21)

18 Broncos 8-7 (16)

19 Chargers 7-8 (14)

20 Cardinals 7-8 (19)

21 Bears 7-8 (20)

22 Panthers 6-9 (25)

23 Bills 6-9 (24)

24 Dolphins 5-10 (23)

25 Chiefs 6-9 (22)

26 Browns 4-11 (28)

27 Redskins 5-10 (27)

28 Bucs 4-11 (26)

29 Vikings 3-12 (30)

30 Jaguars 4-11 (29)

31 Colts 2-13 (31)

32 Rams 2-13 (32)

 


 

Send email to pdomo@aol.com. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PDomo