BRANDON GRAHAM said yesterday he hopes talks toward a deal to keep him with the Eagles are productive, Graham confirming a CSNPhilly.com report that the team has spoken with Graham's agents about a contract to replace the 2010 rookie pact that will expire in the spring.

This seemed serendipitous, given that Graham now officially is scheduled for his first start since 2012, in the wake of Trent Cole's left-hand surgery yesterday, in which a plate was inserted to heal a break. Cole is out for the Saturday game at Washington, though defensive coordinator Bill Davis has said he thinks Cole can play in the season finale at the Giants. Infection around a fresh incision is a concern this week for Cole, who has missed just four games in 10 seasons.

There's still a pretty good chance Graham tests free agency, to see what money might be out there, and, though he won't say so, because life really would be easier in a city where nobody knew or cared to know the identity of the player the Eagles drafted when they could have had safety Earl Thomas.

But Graham, drafted to play 4-3 defensive end, is proud of how he has turned around his situation around. Like a lot of 3-4 pass rushers, he doesn't cover receivers all that much, but it really isn't all that clear now that he is better suited for the 4-3, as has long been assumed.

"I think BG has really, really picked up in terms of what we're trying to do," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said yesterday, in Kelly's final media session before Saturday's game. "There are a lot of nuances to it. But Brandon can set an edge, Brandon can rush a quarterback. He's doing a better job in pass coverage. We've been really happy with him. I think he's really dedicated himself. I think he has really played better from a special-teams standpoint. In every phase we've had an opportunity to get BG on the field, I think he's done a really good job."

"I would love to be here in Philly," Graham said. "I've made it my home; I've been here 5 years. I know it's been a rocky road, but at the end of the day, I feel like I'm starting to get my feet up under me. I think everything's starting to fall into place. I definitely would love to continue my career here. If we can get stuff done here, if the timing is right and everything is right, I would love to extend myself here . . . I'm just happy I changed the opinion of a lot of people."

The trickle-down effect of Cole's injury apparently will give some rare defensive snaps to first-round rookie Marcus Smith, who was moved from outside to inside linebacker because of an injury crisis early in the season. Davis said this week he doesn't know whether Smith will play inside or outside in the long run.

"I agree with Billy," said Kelly, who indicated Smith's ultimate destiny wasn't a big priority right now, with the Eagles scrambling to get back into the playoff picture. For now, Kelly said, "he's going to play both. We don't have any other linebackers" other than special-teams stalwart Bryan Braman.

Graham indicated that when he spells the other outside linebacker, Connor Barwin, as usually happens several snaps a game, Smith will play the "predator"" or pass-rush outside linebacker position.

Graham knows all about being a first-round Eagles draftee that fans want to label a mistake. He has spoken with Smith about this.

"I told him, 'Don't worry about what people say,' " Graham said. "Because that was the hardest part - so many people saying different stuff. I know he's an emotional guy, because at the end of the day, he loves what he does, and he knows what he can do. I just told him to work hard, don't worry about nothin'. Do what the coaches want you to do, and just work at that. Stuff's going to bounce your way . . . Learn from this year and just come back next year even stronger. Don't get [shaken] up by what people say.

"I think now he feels a lot better, because he's got an opportunity this weekend, and I can't wait to see what he does."

Birdseed

Asked about the seeming unfairness of the Eagles potentially missing the playoffs with an 11-5 record while the NFC South winner might get in with a losing mark, Chip Kelly pointed out that the Eagles only have nine wins right now. "If we win 11 games and don't get in, shame on us, because we didn't win the right games," Kelly said . . .

Interesting piece on MMBQ.SI.com about everyone's favorite first-round firefighter, Danny Watkins. The story paints a largely sympathetic portrait of Watkins as a guy who always wanted to fight fires and got sidetracked by football. Teammates I spoke to earlier this season had a less charitable view, a couple using the term "con man." In the story, former Eagles offensive-line coach Howard Mudd is quoted as calling his failure to unlock Watkins' talent Mudd's "biggest failure." Eagles center Jason Kelce said yesterday: "I'm not sure there was that much Howard Mudd could have done there." Teammates said they have had no contact with Watkins since he was cut in training camp in 2013. After finishing that season on the Dolphins' bench, he left football and is working as a firefighter in a suburb north of Dallas. According to the story, he has turned down chances to return to the NFL.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian