ROB MAADDI,AP Pro Football Writer
BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Brandon Graham has a third chance to prove he’s not a first-round bust.
The Philadelphia Eagles coveted Graham so much they traded three draft picks to move up and select him with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Graham, a defensive end, has all of three sacks in two seasons.
Now, he enters Year 3.
Maybe the third time really will be the charm for Graham. After all, it’s time to prove he was worth that investment.
“Brandon has a chip on his shoulder,” defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. “He came back in great shape. He’s a competitor, man. He’s being challenged and he worked his butt off this offseason. When you look into his eyes, you can see that there’s a fire there. I guess maybe he wants to prove (everyone) wrong. I’m excited to watch him play.”
Graham will have an opportunity to show what he can do right away. He’s practicing with the No. 1 unit because of injuries to starting defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole.
When the Eagles (No. 8 in the AP Pro32) open the preseason next Thursday, Graham expects to be out there with the starters.
“That’s going to be the first time for me to show them what I’m going to do in the games and that’s how I’m taking it,” he said. “Like it’s my first step to where I want to be and hopefully it goes exactly how I planned it to go, how I envisioned it to go. All I can do is work hard and that’s what I’m going to do and we’ll see when that day comes.”
Graham had a stellar career at Michigan before coming to Philadelphia. He had 29½ sacks, 56 tackles for loss and eight forced fumbles in 46 games across four seasons. He was the first defensive player in school history to be voted team MVP twice.
Graham played in 13 games as a rookie before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It wasn’t the normal six-to-eight month ACL rehab because Graham had microfracture surgery on his knee. He missed the first two months of the 2011 season, returned in November and played in just three games.
While Graham has struggled trying to live up to expectations, Jason Pierre-Paul has flourished. Pierre-Paul was selected by the New York Giants two picks later, and don’t think that Graham doesn’t hear those comparisons daily. People criticize him on social media and friends tell him what others are saying to motivate him. Pierre-Paul had 16½ sacks last year and played a key role in helping the Giants win the Super Bowl.
“Everybody’s got their own unique things about themselves,” Graham said. “I feel like I’m just trying to get better just with my run game and just get better in all areas.”
A healthy Graham could be an asset in defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s system. Washburn uses a wide-nine scheme that benefits speedy ends because they can line up outside and go all-out after quarterbacks. Babin had 18 sacks last year. Cole had 11.
Washburn likes to rotate his linemen to keep them fresh, so Graham will get plenty of reps if he’s among the top eight. The Eagles have depth on the line, though. Besides Babin, Cole and Graham at end, there’s also Darryl Tapp, Philip Hunt and rookie second-round pick Vinny Curry. The tackle spot is stacked with Cullen Jenkins, rookie first-round pick Fletcher Cox, Antonio Dixon, and Mike Patterson.
“I think the whole group is in competition, and all eight guys will play,” Castillo said. “Right now, they’re all competing to be those top eight guys. We have an excellent group.”
Graham did some boxing at Detroit’s Knockout Gym as part of his offseason workouts and reported to training camp in excellent shape. He’s been a standout early in camp, though it’s clear he has to improve against the run.
“I know I’ve been working hard and all that,” Graham said. “It’s just never the same when you put the pads on and you’ve got to run around with helmets and shoulder pads. But you know, I was in pretty good shape and if I’m able to go hard every play, it’s going to be trouble.”
NOTES: The Eagles traded linebackers Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd to Indianapolis for cornerback Kevin Thomas and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013. Fokou started 22 games in three years. Thomas started five games last season. … Five players left Thursday afternoon’s practice with injuries that don’t appear serious. RB LeSean McCoy (cramps), S Nate Allen (cramps), S O.J. Atogwe (right groin) and WR Jamel Hamler (right hamstring) all left early. LB Jamar Chaney injured his left hamstring and will have an MRI. … The Eagles already were missing Babin (calf), Cole (shoulder), Jenkins (hamstring), Patterson (brain surgery), WR Riley Cooper (collarbone) and TE Brent Celek (knee). RT Todd Herremans (shoulder) and LG Evan Mathis (illness) also sat out of practice.
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