BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham couldn't wait to hit somebody Saturday at Lehigh University.
The afternoon practice featured the first live scrimmage for the team since training camp began earlier in the week.
"Man, I'm hyped and excited," Graham said before the afternoon practice. "Today's a really big day for me. I know what I can do and I know what I'm going to do and I can't wait to show it."
True to his word, he delivered.
Graham was among the most impressive players during Saturday's full-contact scrimmage, conducted before an announced crowd of 6,486. Lining up at left defensive end opposite starting right tackle Todd Herremans, he pushed his way into the backfield on three plays, forcing quarterback Michael Vick to get rid of the ball earlier.
He didn't get that opportunity last summer. Graham, the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2010 (13th overall), spent last year's training camp on the sideline while rehabbing a knee injury suffered late in his rookie season that had required microfracture surgery.
Saturday's live scrimmage presented Graham with his first chance to unleash the frustration and anger that he has been carrying around with him for a while. The 24-year-old appeared in just three games for the Eagles last season, notching just three tackles and no sacks.
Meanwhile, he had to listen to the comparisons to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was drafted two spots after Graham in 2010, made the Pro Bowl last season after collecting 16 sacks.
"Last season was tough for me," Graham said. "I had to take everything people were saying about me and I couldn't defend myself. But I'm healthy now and brighter days are ahead. People better get ready."
Graham showed glimpses of his potential in Friday's afternoon workout. Pitted against Herremans, Graham burst past him en route to the backfield, drawing cheers from the fans and teammates such as fellow defensive end Darryl Tapp.
The 6-foot-2, 268-pounder will need to continue to make strong showings in order to earn a roster spot. Graham is among four defensive ends - rookie Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt and Tapp are the others - fighting for backup roles behind starters Jason Babin and Trent Cole.
"Brandon came in here with a chip on his shoulder," Castillo said Saturday. "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 people wrong. He came in here in great shape and he's doing well. I'm excited to watch him play."
Graham used boxing to get in shape.
The Detroit native headed to the K.O. Boxing Club for daily sessions with noted trainer Henry Hill, whose clients include junior-middleweight Ronald Hearns (Tommy Hearns' son).
Graham enjoyed it so much that he hinted he might give pro boxing a try when his football career is over.
"I'm hoping to be in the NFL for 15 years, but boxing is something I'd like to pursue," Graham said. "Of course, it's one thing to look good hitting the hand pads and another when you actually get into a ring against someone. I've never even sparred before. It's when someone is hitting you back, that's when your heart comes out."
Extra points: Standing-room-only tickets for the Eagles' eight regular-season home games at Lincoln Financial Field will go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. Tickets, which cost $55 apiece, are available through PhiladelphiaEagles.com and Ticketmaster.
Eagles Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik made his annual appearance at training camp Saturday. Bednarik, who resides in nearby Coopersburg, watched from a cart behind the sideline.
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