Another Philadelphia Eagles training camp is upon us, and with that comes so much optimism and intrigue.
A new coaching staff, starting quarterback, and wide receiver will grasp fans' attention throughout camp, but the little details that make us all go “that’s interesting” in passing seem to always slip through the cracks after the initial surprise.
One of those details was Josh Sweat taking first-team reps at defensive end over former first-round pick and Eagles starter of the last couple seasons Derek Barnett.
"When you’re out there in the game, if you’re making plays, you’re going to get out there," said Graham. "It's just good competition. I gotta stay on point myself. Sweaty, I know he’s coming. He’s the future. I can see it. But you gotta go get it. I’m not going to make it easy.
First-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon flashed some 3-4 looks on defense that hint towards a hybrid approach, which could answer some of the intrigues around Sweat starting the day off as the starter.
Perhaps the Eagles’ first-year coach came away with the conclusion, from his observations of the roster, that Sweat is better suited as a starter for his defense over Barnett.
Assuming Sweat will be the starter from here on out after the first day of training camp is an overreaction, but it’s something to keep an eye on as camp progresses, especially given that both defensive ends are entering the final years of their rookie contracts.
"I love that Derek, he came in, he’s ready," said Graham. "I feel like injuries have definitely slowed him down to where people got the question mark on him. But he’s tough. He’s going to go out there and give you everything he got. Hopefully, this is the year for him because I know all about it. You gotta have a breakout year in order to be here."
Sweat’s Eagles tenure is getting eerily similar to that of Graham’s as well, which turned out fantastic for Philadelphia once before.
Graham suffered a devastating knee injury in his rookie season with the Eagles, which would stunt his development and playing time the following four seasons afterward.
Philadelphia finally got a glimpse of their investment on their 2010 first-round choice in 2014 while having limited playing time behind Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
Graham was only on the field for 240 pass-rush snaps that season but was a force rushing the passer with five and a half sacks and 53 total pressures.
The Eagles had no choice but to move on from Cole and re-sign Graham coming off his rookie deal after flashing such potential. The team knew the best was yet to come after seeing just that glimpse, and they were correct.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself with Sweat. His career path isn’t identical to Graham’s, but there are similarities and many potentials to go off of in this case.
Coming out of Florida State, Sweat suffered one of the most gruesome knee injuries ever recorded in the sport of football. The defensive end was told he was never going to play football again in 2014. Fast forward to seven years later, and he’s taking starter reps entering his fourth training camp in the NFL.
Sweat, just like Graham, had to heal an entire season from injury and take a back seat once he was ready to play, in addition to developing behind the scenes.
But, after a six-sack season in 2019 (on only 238 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus), a thought may have entered Gannon’s head, which would be a familiar thought to the Eagles: let’s see what we have in this pass rusher.
Sweat is an in-season extension candidate, especially for a defensive end. Philadelphia prioritizes defensive line like no other team in football, and that philosophy has not changed with the arrivals of Sirianni or Gannon.
Consistency and availability are the factors Sweat has to prove to the new coaching staff and the front office to be the Eagles' long-term answer at the defensive end spot.
But the 24-year-old has flashed enough talent and potential to be considered a starter over Barnett to open the first-ever training camp with Gannon as defensive coordinator.
All Sweat has to do is continue the trend his career trajectory has been on, and he’ll get his job security from Philadelphia in the offseason, just like Graham did not too long ago.
The Eagles invested in Graham before making him a full-time starter, and Philadelphia may have done the same with Sweat if the organization was in a better financial state.
Their 2018 fourth-round pick still needs to prove a little bit more while earning his starting spot in a new defense, the team’s patience can answer more of their questions, which in return could work out for both parties.
With the knee no longer being a hindering issue, according to Sweat himself, and entering a contract year, where he has to prove his long-term worth, the restraints finally appear to be off Philadelphia's defensive end.
Graham took some time to get seasoned, despite the impatience it caused, and he ended up becoming a long-time great player for Philadelphia.
Sweat is following the same path as his counterpart, and the Eagles are beginning to realize they have something special in their young pass rusher as they did once not too long ago with their Super Bowl hero.
This is the final year of his contract, so it is imperative he flashes in whatever role awaits him.
Conor Myles covers the Philadelphia Eagles for SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-hosts the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast on Bleav Podcast Network. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesSI
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.