After he signed with the Eagles last week, Corey Graham's family called with the same question that Eagles fans had about the 10-year veteran: Do you think you'll play cornerback again?
"I played it for eight years in this league," Graham said. "I enjoyed playing corner. It's not really a big deal to me. When you've done it, you can always play corner. Learning safety and playing safety is a lot harder. At corner, you obviously got to move a little more, covering and things like that."
Graham, 32, has played safety the last two years. The Eagles are bringing him in as a safety, and that's the position he played Sunday in his first practice with the team. But defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who coached Graham when he was a cornerback in 2014, didn't rule out the possibility that Graham could help at the team's weakest position.
Schwartz already spoke to Graham about the possibility and he likes that Graham is a "multidimensional player" – able to contribute at safety, slot cornerback, and outside cornerback. He said Graham will likely receive "guest appearances" at cornerback.
"He's got the ability to match up against wide receivers," Schwartz said. "…He's a reliable player. I think that's the bottom line. He's smart. He makes quick adjustments."
Graham, who is 6 feet and 196 pounds, is familiar enough with Schwartz's scheme that he anticipates a quick transition. In the secondary, the techniques and coverages are mostly the same from one team to the next – especially for a 10-year pro. The difference is the terminology, calls, and communication requirements, and Graham thinks his background with Schwartz will be an asset.
In fact, when asked why he signed with the Eagles, Graham said, "Jim Schwartz."
"I enjoyed playing with him when he was with me in Buffalo," Graham said. "His system is great. He allows you to play really play fast; you don't have to overthink things."
Graham was released by the Bills in March. He said he had opportunities to sign elsewhere, but he didn't want to rush. As a veteran, he didn't want to deal with a team's offseason program and preferred to sign just for training camp. Also, his wife had a baby during the offseason and he didn't want to leave her during those early months.
Even though Graham has a background with Schwartz and members of the front office, the Eagles are set at starting safety with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. So Graham wasn't necessarily signing with a team that will allow him to continue starting. However, the Eagles want versatility among their defensive backs, so Schwartz still envisioned a potential role.
"Malcolm has played some nickel in the past, particularly when we like some of those matchups in there, so there's potential for that opportunity for a safety to come in – a three-safety package, which we played probably more due to necessity last year," Schwartz said. "Some was on our terms, but some was due to necessity. But it allows us potentially to do it more on our terms."
Graham said that even at safety during the last two years, he needed to cover wide receivers because then-Bills coach Rex Ryan often kept his base defense on the field. And Schwartz said that even if the Eagles don't line Graham up at cornerback during practice, they will be able to see how Graham matches up with wide receivers from the safety spot.
"I think we'll be open to everything," Schwartz said. "You don't want to close your mind to anything. But again, it's not going to be based on thought process going in. It's going to be the results of training camp and four preseason games. …We'll be able to get a good body of work and be able to truly identify or truly evaluate where he is."
Regardless of where he plays on defense, Graham expects to find a role on special teams. He was a Pro Bowl selection on special teams in 2011 and spent his early NFL seasons mostly as a special-teams player. Even when he took on a more prominent defensive role in recent seasons, Graham still made sure he found time on special teams. Graham expects to contribute to punts and kickoffs in Philadelphia.
"When you start out on special teams, it's in your heart," Graham said. "I enjoy playing special teams. It's what got me in the league. It's what made me who I am today, the grit, the grind, going out there fighting. I will always have some role on special teams."
What Schwartz liked most about Graham was reliability. Graham has played 157 consecutive games. He has been a steady professional. The Eagles still need to see exactly how he'll contribute, but they're gambling on Graham's track record.
"You never want to bet before or determine the results before it happens, but if you base it on his past history, he's been very reliable that way," Schwartz said. "So I would hope the same thing would happen now."