Since completing his comeback from the major knee surgery that marred his first two NFL seasons, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham has missed exactly one game – last season's meaningless regular-season finale, the week after Graham suffered a high ankle sprain against Oakland. Sitting out that date with Dallas ended his streak of having appeared in 95 regular-season games in a row.
That's something to keep in mind as Graham watches the early days of Eagles training camp, following surgery for the ankle injury. Graham, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) and safety/special teams star Chris Maragos (knee) were placed on the physically unable to perform list Thursday. They can come off and begin practicing at any time, but if their injuries linger and they can't practice, putting them on PUP now makes them eligible for that list when the regular season begins. Players on PUP don't count against the 53-man roster.
The Eagles also designated defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (herniated disk surgery) and wideout Bryce Treggs (lower-body injury, most likely a hamstring) for the non-football injury list. Treggs indicated his problem was minor.
Graham, 30, bore his injury through the playoffs, famously strip-sacking Tom Brady to help seal the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. He hoped the ankle would heal in the offseason, but as the weeks went by and it still ached, he eventually opted for what he has called a surgical "cleanout." Graham said Thursday he isn't sure when he will be back on the field, but he intends to play in the season opener, Sept. 6 vs. Atlanta.
"I don't know yet … Just one day at a time, just happy to be back in training camp, happy to be out here to see the boys, to see where they're at, who's doing what," Graham said. "I'm running and doing stuff right now. Just being smart, trying to make sure it's not something that comes back. I'm just trying to make sure that I'm ready for Game 1 … That's the goal."
Pressed on his timetable, Graham acknowledged that he'd really like to get back into action before the season starts.
"I'm hoping to be by the third [preseason game, in which starters get the most snaps], hoping to play the long one," he said. "Gotta get out there to be in some kind of football shape."
Graham said there is no use pondering whether he should have had the surgery earlier in the offseason. He is slated to become a free agent next spring; opening the 2018 season looking rusty, or worse, on PUP, would not be a good step toward what is likely to be his final shot at a big-money deal. The four-year, $26 million contract Graham signed under Chip Kelly in 2015 has been a bargain for the Eagles.
"You always wish, and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, it happened the way it was supposed to. I'm just trying to make sure I handle it right now," he said. "For future reference, I'm going to make sure that if something's lingering, I take care of it right away."
Graham said he knew right away he was seriously injured, when as he brought down Oakland's Marshawn Lynch on Christmas night at Lincoln Financial Field, teammate Jaylen Watkins tried to help and ended up slamming his helmet into Graham's lower leg.
"I knew. I knew," he said. Graham said he tried to stay in the game but on the next snap, "I fired out and I was just holding onto the dude."
He made it to Super Bowl LII by taking advantage of a two-week break, the Dallas game plus the playoff bye, then not practicing much as the Eagles underdogged their way through the Falcons and the Vikings, to their day of destiny with New England. Graham said he had just started to get confident in his ankle in the Super Bowl when he took off a little too hard on it and pulled his hamstring. He missed a few snaps while medical staffers used a roller to mitigate that problem, then returned to the field and made history.
He said the decision to play through everything wasn't a difficult one.
"I never won a championship, period … I did all I could … Sometimes a little medicine helps, too," Graham said. "But sometimes the medicine don't help."
Michael Bennett, Graham's new defensive linemate, mentions Graham as a fellow pass rusher he respects in Bennett's book "Things that Make White People Uncomfortable," written when Bennett was still a Seattle Seahawk.
"I just liked the way he goes in and out, the way he works hard every single play," Bennett said Thursday.
Bennett played on the Seattle teams that won Super Bowl XLVIII and were within a yard of repeating the next year, before Patriot Malcolm Butler's famous goal-line interception. Bennett said he wasn't surprised that Graham kept going, despite the injuries.
"People play through all kinds of things," Bennett said.
Graham, entering his ninth season, really doesn't need to be trundling through drills right now. He can take time to heal.
"I feel real good where I am, like everything's progressing," Graham said. "By Game 1, that's just a gametime decision."