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Bucs, Graham Reach Agreement

RB Earnest Graham had a breakout 2007 campaign and, as he recently predicted at mini-camp, he and the Buccaneers worked out a contract extension well before the start of the team's 2008 training camp


RB Earnest Graham racked up 10 rushing touchdowns in 2007, becoming just the fourth back in team history to reach double digits in a single season

Earnest Graham got his chance to shine in 2007 and he made the most of it.

Now, in much the same way, Graham and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seized the opportunity at hand. On Monday, the fifth-year running back signed a multi-year contract extension with the only NFL team for whom he has ever played.

As is team policy, terms of the new deal were not disclosed. However, the contract obviously stems from Graham's outstanding 2007 campaign, in which he led the team in rushing with 898 yards on 222 carries. The former University of Florida star also scored 10 rushing touchdowns, tying for the third-highest total in franchise history.

Graham was thrust into the starting role after injuries knocked Cadillac Williams out for the season in Week Four and put Michael Pittman on the shelf for much of the campaign in Week Five. Graham, who had a total of 215 rushing yards in the previous three seasons, responded superbly, racking up 751 rushing yards and seven touchdowns over the next 10 weeks (he was one of many starters deactivated in Week 17).

Though he trained away from team headquarters for much of the offseason, Graham did attend the Bucs' mandatory mini-camp in late June and, at the time, expressed optimism that a contract agreement would be reached before training camp.

And indeed, Graham's new deal eliminates any concern about the start of camp, in which the running back position will be one of the most intriguing situations to watch. Graham will be looking to follow up on his breakout 2007 campaign but he will have plenty of help in the backfield, especially after the offseason signing of former Tampa Bay star Warrick Dunn. The Bucs are also optimistic about the return of injured star Cadillac Williams and have been impressed by the offseason performance of 2007 trade acquisition Michael Bennett.

The 5-9, 225-pound Graham would seem to have the inside track on the starting role after he averaged 4.0 yards per carry in 2007 and recorded three 100-yard games during the Bucs' playoff push in November. A tough inside runner who had excelled on special teams from 2004-06, Graham proved capable of handling the featured runner role in 2007.

The fifth-leading rusher in University of Florida history, Graham originally joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He spent a portion of his rookie season on the Bucs' practice squad but has been on the active roster ever since, helping the team in a variety of ways. In addition to serving as a more-than-capable backup runner â€" he averaged 4.1 yards per carry from 2004-06 â€" Graham also recorded 38 special teams tackles in 2005-06 and occasionally handled the Bucs' kickoff-return duties.

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