Brandon Graham doesn’t need much to get fired up.
The veteran Eagles defensive end was asked during a Sunday news conference how he’d compensate for the absence of fans when getting into his intense pregame state. He answered by demonstrating how quickly he could flip the switch on a video call with reporters.
“Man, I’m hot right now,” Graham said, jokingly. “I’m telling you, it don’t take me nothing. I can look at you and think you’re the enemy and tell you I’ll be talking to whoever out there. When I see that jersey, it don’t matter, fans or no fans, I’m going at them. ... [The fans] help boost it up, but I really do just want to impose my will on these tackles. I’ll just be talking to them tackles, you can see I’m hyped right now.
“You’re going to be able to hear them pads, clack, clack.”
Graham’s ability to work himself up so efficiently likely comes easier with experience. The 32-year-old is entering his 11th season in the league, firmly established as the elder statesman in the defensive-end room, a group with seven players younger than 26.
Much to Graham’s pleasure, some more seasoned help is on the way after the Eagles re-signed free agent Vinny Curry, 32, to a one-year deal on Friday. The defensive end has played seven seasons with the Eagles, having returned last year after spending 2018 with Tampa Bay.
“Vinny coming back, that’s experience,” Graham said. “He’s been there, he won the Super Bowl with us, so he knows what it takes and what Doug’s message is every year.”
But Curry’s return is a double-edged sword. The Eagles typically rotate four defensive ends, and Curry’s return could make a younger, developmental player’s path into the rotation more difficult. This would be the case in a regular offseason, but it’s exacerbated by the loss of OTAs and preseason games due to the pandemic.
Curry played 39% of the defensive snaps last year and had a strong second half of the season in relief of Derek Barnett, who had an ankle injury. Curry had four sacks in the team’s last five games and started two of them.
With Graham and Barnett penciled in as starters and Josh Sweat having an inside track for a rotational spot, there should be one spot up for grabs. Aside from Curry, the Eagles have Genard Avery, Shareef Miller, Joe Ostman, and Casey Toohill fighting for that job. Avery has barely seen the field for the Eagles, but the team swapped a 2021 fourth-round pick to Cleveland for him at the trade deadline last year.
Graham said he worked out with Miller this offseason and noted that the 2019 fourth-round pick from Penn State is in the best shape he’s been in since joining the Eagles.
Graham didn’t try to sugarcoat the challenge the younger players will face this training camp, trying to earn a roster a spot without preseason games.
“It’s not the best situation, knowing what situations we had before, but I do believe these guys just have to make the adjustment,” Graham said. “The whole thing right now is building that trust with the coach to know that, ‘You can count on me when I’m out there on the field to know what to do and to execute.’ So I’m doing all I can to help our rookies in our room. ... It’s a messed-up situation, but it is what it is. You have to go out there and prove yourself every day in practice because now you don’t have those preseason games and there’s no excuses.”
Graham said he and his wife discussed the possibility of him opting out for the 2020 season “for a second,” but ultimately decided he’d play. Earlier this offseason, Graham told reporters he’d lost a family member and a close family friend to the coronavirus.