‘Comfortable’ Corey Returns to Put the Eagles at Ease
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Corey Graham probably won't like being described as a comfortable old shoe but at 33 the veteran safety, who just re-signed with the Eagles over the weekend, isn't the brand new wing tips you are breaking out for the important business meeting, he's the pair of sneakers you are looking for when you get back and just want to relax.
With 11 NFL seasons under his belt, training camp doesn't exactly top Graham's to-do list.
He signed in early August with Philadelphia for the second consecutive year and his tardiness to the dance is kind of a wink-wink between a player taking it year by year at this stage of his career and an organization who covets his steady presence on the back end of the defense, something which enables Jim Schwartz to better use his own personal Swiss Arny Knife, Malcolm Jenkins, in a variety of ways.
Graham rejoined the Eagles just in time for Sunday's open practice at Lincoln Financial Field and met with reporters while trying to keep s straight face over missing the first eight practices of the summer.
“It was tough, man,” a smiling Graham joked. “It was tough not being here for training camp. I came as soon as I could, man."
Jokes aside everyone in the organization was thrilled to see Graham, not the least of which was Schwartz, who needs a new nickel back after Patrick Robinson signed with New Orleans in free agency and a third safety behind Jenkins and Rodney McLeod had Graham decided to hang up his cleats.
Without Graham in the fold Schwartz would have been forced to use the untested -- likely either Sidney Jones or De'Vante Bausby in the slot -- and first-year player Tre Sullivan on the back end.
With Graham and his assignment-sound pedigree everything changes because Jenkins can simply slide down in obvious passing situations as Graham rotates in if need be. Meanwhile, if Jones or Bausby or even Jalen Mills prove competent in inside coverage, Schwartz can play all the matchup games with Jenkins that made the Philadelphia defense so effective last season.
"It's important especially in our defense," linebacker Nigel Bradham told 973espn.com earlier this week when asked about Graham coming back. "We play our third safety a lot. Our dime package and we even use a nickel package with a third safety instead of our normal nickel. There's a lot of different type packages we use that we have to utilize that third safety so it was major for us to get that veteran presence back and to be comfortable. A guy that's familiar. A guy we were out there with and battling with."
Graham was a big and sometimes under-appreciated part of the 2017 Super Bowl team. He played 36 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season, and the team leaned on him even more in the playoffs, when he played 60 percent, including 64 of 76 in Super Bowl LII. He was also a big-time contributor on special teams.
In his absence younger players like Sullivan and undrafted rookie Jeremy Reaves have been getting extended reps in practice at safety.
“It was close," Graham said when asked about returning. "It was closer than people think. Everybody was like, ‘we were waiting on you to come back.’ They just assumed I was going to come back. Being home with your family, being with my boys, they wanted me there. I enjoyed it. When I tall came down to it, it was just another opportunity to try to win again and be around the guys.”
Winning is the key word there for a player who will be shooting for the third Super Bowl ring. If the Eagles weren't a significant contender again, Graham wouldn't be wasting his time.
"He knows how to win. He knows how to win with us," Mills said. "[His presence] makes us a lot more flexible. Whatever kind of package Schwartz has in the middle of his head we are able to do it because of guys like [Corey] who know the defense."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen