PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles first-round pick Brandon Graham once walked away from football. He suffered a stinger on a piercing blow from a linebacker and decided to retire. He was 7 at the time.
Because he was bigger than most kids his age, Graham was playing with 9- and 10-year-old kids. He left the Eastside Giants of Detroit that season, but his father convinced him to give it one more shot. Now that he's about to sign a lucrative rookie deal with the Eagles, it looks like the decision paid off.
"I didn't want any part of football," said Graham on Tuesday. "I turned in my pads immediately and was ready to move on to something else. Guess it's a good thing I reconsidered."
The word that Andy Reid often uses to describe Graham is "relentless." The Eagles loved the fact that Graham made 40 percent of his tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He was the defensive MVP for Michigan in consecutive seasons and he just seemed like the perfect fit for the Eagles' defense. They're hoping he'll be the complement that Trent Cole has been needing the last few years. For now, everyone's just trying to slow Graham down a little bit. He's so anxious to rush the passer that he has jumped offsides several times, so he's trying to concentrate on the ball.
Graham is learning how to convert "speed to power." He's constantly watching a highlight tape of some of the top defensive ends in the league who have a similar frame to his. Graham's 6-foot-1, 270 pounds. His favorite player to watch is Denver's Elvis Dumervil, and he's already taking some of Dumervil's moves to the practice field.
"He's a nice player to watch," said Graham with admiration in his voice. "Some of those moves are pretty subtle."
Graham said that starters Juqua Parker and Trent Cole have been very helpful in his development. Parker keeps reminding him to watch the football instead of trying to jump the snap. In college, Graham had an uncanny knack for getting a jump on offensive tackles. He read their faces and body language before exploding past them. He's already learning that NFL offensive linemen take a different approach. He said linemen at this level drop straight back to buy themselves more time. That makes it tougher to beat them to the outside with pure speed.
More than anything, Graham's working to use his hands to swipe away blocks. The tape he watches includes players such as Dwight Freeney, LaMarr Woodley and Cole. He loves watching their countermoves and he has been surprised by how many tricks they have.
But at some point, Graham will have to identify his own style. And that probably needs to happen fairly soon.