Brandon Graham took the field alongside his teammates Monday for the first time since Feb. 4. No confetti fell when the workout ended, and Graham didn't get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy again, but it was a happy day nonetheless.
As he prepared to test the right ankle, which was surgically repaired on May 1, Graham admitted that he was "excited, because it's the first step."
More steps must be completed before Graham suits up for the Sept. 6 season opener against Atlanta. Given the calendar, and that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Graham would be limited in his first workout, it would seem that even if Graham is healthy for the opener, he will not have tackled anyone in a game since the Super Bowl.
"All I can say is, when I do start hittin' people, I'm going to be so sore. But then you gotta work through that soreness like we always do," Graham said. "Eventually, that starts to become your armor, and you continue to build on that. I'm just ready for that day of soreness, so I can feel good about it, be like, 'All right, I'm back in it.' So, right now, I'm just trying to get my legs up under me."
Graham suffered a high-ankle sprain on Christmas night against the Raiders, rehabbed through the season finale against Dallas and the playoff bye week, then played 79 percent of the defensive snaps in playoff victories over Atlanta, Minnesota and New England. Bad ankle and all, he strip-sacked Tom Brady to nail down the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. But when the injury didn't heal through a few months of the offseason, Graham underwent a "cleanout" procedure.
"Ankle feels pretty good. Right now, it's just getting in … football shape," Graham said. "Here's another uphill battle. But you know, we're always uphill. The season's uphill. Just gotta keep getting better."
Graham believes he will start his ninth Eagles season on time, but he's not guaranteeing it.
"I'm going to see how this week goes, and then we'll see how next week goes. Then we can talk about it. I don't want to make no promises; promises are not good. Just know I'm workin' my butt off every day, puttin' money in the bank every day," he said. "This week is just a building block for Week 1. As I continue to feel better, I'm going to continue to keep going harder … . I got 17 days to get right."
Schwartz pretty much laughed when asked whether he has enough snaps to go around, considering the strong corps of defensive ends. That group includes Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, fourth-round rookie Josh Sweat and Steven Means, a fourth-year Eagle who has been buried on the depth chart but is a favorite of teammates for his intensity in practice.
"Things that have never been said in the NFL: 'I have too many pass rushers. I have too many good corners,' " Schwartz said. "Those are things that defensive coordinators, defenses in general, value.
"You need to be built for the long haul. There's going to be injuries. It was well-documented last year, [the] injuries that we had. Part of filling those was having good depth. You're not going to find a coach in the world that's going to complain about that."
Schwartz added that the team hasn't really "missed" Graham, who has been in all the meetings.
Bennett, acquired in a March trade, wrote in his book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, about his respect for Graham and that Graham is underrated. Until Monday, however, they had never played together.
"It's going to be pretty cool to have him out there," Bennett said.
>> READ MORE: Will Michael Bennett take a lesser role?
It will be interesting to see how quickly Graham, 30, can get up to speed. This is a contract year for the player the Eagles drafted 13th overall in 2010. Schwartz spoke before the preseason opener about how important such games are for pass-rushers, who don't get to hit quarterbacks in practice.
"You finish a rush by laying out and trying to knock the ball away, or trying to power through, and we don't do that in training camp," Schwartz said.
Long, entering his 11th season at age 33, knows all about being a pass-rusher coming back from injury. He missed 14 games in his final two years with the Rams, in 2014 and 2015.
"Getting in rhythm is hard," Long said. But Graham is "a good football player, he's got eight years in the league of instincts. I know he's been rehabbing with some of the best trainers in the league. I'm sure he'll be back to his normal self before long."
Graham said it's his responsibility to make up for lost time.
"It's on me right now to make sure that I … keep getting my shape up," he said, "and that's just running and doing my drills and pushing and pulling on people."