RB Earnest Graham was encouraged by the blocking up front in Friday's opener
One blue-collar grinder (Earnest Graham) and one bolt out of the blue (Carey Davis) helped the Bucs gut the Jets' run dense for 167 yards in the preseason opener
Cadillac Williams didn't touch the ball for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener against the New York Jets, and replacement starter Michael Pittman left the game early, but the Bucs still pounded out 167 yards on the ground. For that, they can thank the hard-working, low-profile duo of Earnest Graham Carey Davis.
On this sultry August night, Graham and Davis carried the load for the Bucs, combining for 136 yards on 31 carries and four catches for 49 yards in a 16-3 Bucs victory. Those 185 combined yards for the duo exactly equaled what the entire New York Jets offense produced.
And while there weren't any long highlight runs to pump up those stats, the two backs earned every one of their yards, mostly running between the tackles of a particularly physical offensive line.
"How about that?" asked Head Coach Jon Gruden, marveling at the rushing production provided in the absence of most of his runners. "Derek Watson had an ankle sprain. We didn't feel it was right for him to go tonight. Earnest took 16 or 17 carries. We wanted to see him perform as we did last season in the early preseason, and he has proven again he's a great back, a very good football player.
"Carey Davis was pressed into service as a halfback. He'd been playing fullback throughout the entire offseason into training camp, coming in here and carrying 15 or 16 times, running hard, picking up some blitzes and catching some passes. He gets steak and lobster in Orlando this week, and that's a fact. He is going to eat steak and lobster. He gets the game ball. I know it is a preseason game, but what a gut-check, gritty performance by a guy who has worked really hard."
During one particular series in the first half, four out of five plays went to Graham. The biggest gainer was actually a pass, as quarterback Tim Rattay sidestepped pressure from defensive end Shaun Ellis and dumped the ball off to Graham for a 26-yard gain down the middle of the field.
"I had helped out on one of the linemen, and I saw the quarterback scrambling, so I just leaked out in the middle of the field, and he made a nice play, and I took it up the field and moved the chains," Graham said. "I was surprised. Sometimes when the holes get that big, you don't really know what to do. I was looking and then I just took off – it was so huge. It was a good play by the quarterback."
Graham followed that with three consecutive runs for six, five and three yards, taking the ball to the Jets' seven-yard line and setting up a Matt Bryant field goal – the only Buccaneer points of the first half. All in all, the undrafted free agent who was signed in 2003 and subsequently released, signed and again released before rejoining team in January 2004, finished the game with 17 carries for 69 yards and two catches for 37 yards.
"A lot of guys are up front, really battling to give us holes in there," Graham said. "I came in there and ran well, Carey Davis ran well. I think that's a tribute to the guys up front. They were working their butts off.
"[Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood] are very physical. I know Davin, in particular – he's a physical guy. He was kind of putting some chips on a couple of guys, and he was kind of flooring them, man. He's a very physical guy. And Trueblood, he's coming along. He's playing great. I tried to talk to him as much as I could. He got a lot of different looks in the game, and he's a competitor. He likes to compete, and that's all you can ask for from a guy playing in his first year."
If the first half belonged to Graham, the second half was claimed by Davis, a first-year player with one regular season game on his resume. After spending time with the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons, Davis found his way to the Buccaneers last January. He found his game Friday night.
Of the Buccaneers' 208 second-half yards, Davis, playing as a halfback, accounted for 79 – something he too credited to the offensive line. Still, it was his bruising running style and surprisingly quick feet that drew the attention of most onlookers.
"It's whatever I need to do to get yards," said Davis. "If somebody's in the way, I've got to run through them, and if I can get in the open field and try to use my speed, that's what I'll try to do. There wasn't really a lot of room to run out there, so I was running into people and trying to keep going."
"Anytime you can get a chance in the preseason – this is our time, the people who aren't starters, the people who are working to make a team. This is our time to show what we can do, and I'm just fortunate that Coach Gruden believed in me enough to give me the ball that many times, and the offensive line and the fullback did a great job."
On a night when these two backs each assumed the role of workhorse, each claimed a half of football and each found validation for their hard work, perhaps their most important similarity is their mentality, a blue-collar approach that sounded quite similar in post-game comments.
"They just tell me to keep working," said Graham of Gruden and Running Backs Coach Art Valero. "I just have to keep working no matter what. If they say good stuff, I have to keep working. If they say bad stuff, I have to keep working. That's my mentality – I just work. I just put my hard hat on and come to work."
Echoed Davis: "I'm here for whatever. I didn't get to play much special teams tonight. I wanted to play more special teams, but I'm here to do what they need me to do – just come in here and go to work."