PHILADELPHIA – Brandon Graham’s 12th NFL season began with youthful exuberance, as the 33-year-old Eagles defensive end shook hands, bro-hugged, and laughing it up with reporters gathered on the sideline just before 10 a.m. for the first training practice on Wednesday.
There’s a touch of gray beginning to populate his beard, but there doesn’t seem to be any slowing him down.
He is the longest-tenured member of the roster, something nobody thought would be possible after a slow launch to his career, which began as the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“It’s one season at a time right now,” said Graham, who led the team in sacks last year with eight, but only one after Nov. 1. “I feel good. People call me ‘old man,’ but I’m going to show you ‘old man,’ so I get that chip on my shoulder.”
The Eagles are making it more difficult for Graham, who enters the season with 59 career sacks, which is the fourth-most in franchise history behind Clyde Simmons (76), Trent Cole (88.5), and Reggie White (124).
They brought in a couple challengers to the defensive end position in last spring’s draft by taking the 6-3, 285-pound Milton Williams in the third round and the 6-2, 255-pound Tarron Jackson in the sixth.
Jackson is a defensive end by trade, Williams not so much after spending most of his time at Louisiana Tech at D-tackle.
There was Williams, however, lining up at defensive end on Wednesday as the Eagles continue to mix-and-match personnel at various positions like they did in the spring.
“With training camp, you want to try so many different things, see what you got, see what people can do,” said Graham. “Milton, that boy came in, looking lean, looking fast. I’m excited man, for the rooks. Like Tarron Jackson, I’m telling you, them boys, I’m just trying to give them everything I got as far as the information, how to be a pro, just get your regimen down with what you do every day, and just come to work.”
That doesn’t mean Graham is willing to give up any snaps to either of them.
Not willingly, anyway. They will have to earn it against one of the all-time faces of the Eagles’ franchise.
Exactly how much longer Graham will remain the face, and continue to be effective, even he isn’t sure.
“As long as I stay to my diet, keep working … right now, my goal has always been 15 (years),” he said. “If I can get there, I get there. If not, I’m not going to be mad at all. I love my career and how it went so far. It’s just all about, I’m trying to get me another ring before we get up out of here. Who knows? I might go out like (tight end Brent) Celek, if we get another ring.”
Celek retired after the 2017 season and after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.
Graham, of course, had a big hand in that 41-33 win over the Patriots with his strip sack fumble of Tom Brady in the final minutes.
There aren’t Super Bowl expectations this season, but there weren’t any in 2017, either.
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.