PHILADELPHIA – Generally, getting benched means a huge blow to the ego, a drastic reduction in playing time and a view from the sideline. For Juqua Parker, getting benched has meant the best start of his career.
Parker, a starting defensive end for the Eagles (2-1) from the middle of 2007 through last year, lost his starting job to rookie first-round pick Brandon Graham two games into the preseason. But Parker, a 10-year veteran, has taken advantage of his new role. His playing time has been limited but his production hasn't been. He's come off the bench to register four sacks in the Eagles' first three games and shares the league lead among all defensive ends.
Only Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, with six, has more.
"You never want to lose your job," Parker said. "But I know that they drafted him to play, so it wasn't surprising. I've been around long enough to know that you can't worry about stuff like that. You focus on what you have to do to prepare and get better, and you can't waste time worrying about anything else."
That mentality has helped Parker survive a decade in the NFL despite not getting drafted and starting just two games in his first six seasons. Parker made the Titans' roster as a special teamer and backup defensive lineman in 2001 but only recorded five sacks in his first five NFL seasons — four in Tennessee, one in Philadelphia — before finally getting an opportunity with the Eagles in 2006 when former Titans teammate Jevon Kearse suffered a season-ending injury two games into the season.
Parker responded with six sacks in 2006 and recorded 24 through 2009, including a career-high eight last year. He's one of only six NFL defensive ends to record five or more sacks in each of the last four seasons.
With 28 sacks since joining the Eagles, Parker is only five sacks from joining the all-time Eagles top 10, a prestigious list that's topped by Hall of Famer Reggie White (124), and also includes multiple Pro Bowlers such as Clyde Simmons (76), Hugh Douglas (54½) and current teammate Trent Cole (50).
"You never know what's going to happen each year, so I just try to always get better and more consistent," Parker said. "Hopefully, I continue the way I started off, and continue racking up sacks and helping the team win."
Graham, 22, said he was concerned with how his promotion in late August would affect his friendship and working relationship with Parker.
"When they made me a starter, I didn't know how (Parker) would respond or how it would affect our relationship," Graham said. "Honestly, I was a little nervous about it. But nothing has changed between us. He's still always there to help me if I have a question, and he helps get my mind right before the games. He knows it's a business and stuff happens that you can't control. I know it hurt him to not be a starter, but he's been the same guy since it happened. It's all about the team with J.P. Whatever's going to help us win."
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he's not surprised Parker has reacted in such a positive way to his demotion.
"He's not a guy that needs any extra motivation," McDermott said. "And that's what I would hope if an individual is taken out of the starting role — that he continues to push and plays even harder. I think that was the case with Juqua. He's an extremely driven individual and hard-nosed football player and leader for the defensive line. I appreciate the way he's accepted his role right now.
"He's been productive in each and every game. Just like interceptions, sometimes sacks come and go, and you go on a hot streak or you go on a dry streak, you've just got to keep on pushing, pushing, pushing. And he is very hot right now."