RB Earnest Graham does a lot of things well, making him a valuable mid-season addition for the Buccaneers
Earnest Graham finished his run at the University of Florida with 3,065 rushing yards, fifth best in that school's impressive history. And yet it is only now, roughly 22 months after his last carry as a Gator, that Graham is getting a shot in the National Football League.
He thinks he knows why.
"You try to have multiple strengths," said Graham. "I don't think you could pinpoint one thing that I do. That's probably why I had a tough way to go since I've been out of school. You can't really pinpoint one thing great. I just try to do a lot of things and stay consistent."
What Graham can do is exactly what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need right now, and that's why he was signed off the team's practice squad after the injury that knocked out fullback Mike Alstott for the next month or so. A short but thick back (5-9, 215 pounds) with more wiggle than you would expect, Graham can play a little bit of fullback and a little bit of tailback, like Alstott, and he can potentially excel in the red zone. During the preseason, Graham had four carries from inside the opponent's three-yard line, and he scored on three of them.
"As far as running the ball I try to be a pretty intelligent runner," said Graham. "I try to understand the blocking schemes. I feel like I can lower my shoulder and break some tackles."
Graham was signed to the active roster last week, during the Bucs' bye. This week, as the team has begun its preparations for the Kansas City Chiefs, Head Coach Jon Gruden has made it clear that Graham wasn't activated for emergency depth. The first-year back, who originally joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2003, will make his NFL debut on Sunday.
"He's ready to go, he'll be active and what his contribution is will be announced on Sunday," said Gruden. "We'll see how the game goes. He's prepared to play fullback. He can help us in the one-back stuff. He can play. We'll see how the game develops."
Obviously, Graham would have preferred to get his feet wet more than a year ago, but a preseason shoulder injury interrupted his rookie season. Still, if he had to wait, Graham ended up with a pretty good activation scenario. By getting the call last week, he had the bye week to absorb the idea and get himself ready to go.
"It has helped a lot," said Graham. "It has given me the chance to calm down. I had my excitement last week. I learned that I was going to play and I told everybody. This allows me to settle in and prepare for it as if it were a regular game. You don't want to be to in awe when you go out onto the field. You cannot play well like that. I definitely got the chance to settle down and concentrate on what I had to do."
Score 101 points in two weeks in the NFL and you command respect from your next opponent.
That's what the Chiefs have done, and they've certainly been given their due respect from the Buccaneers, who are next up on Sunday. Still, you have to wonder if the Bucs might be starting to chafe a bit at the automatic prefix their opponents have gained. It's not just the Chiefs, you know, it's the 'High-Powered Kansas City Chiefs.'
That's justified after the Chiefs' explosion over the past two weeks. But it's less than a foregone conclusion that Kansas City's 'high-powered' offense will make it three straight dominating weeks on Sunday. The Bucs aren't going into Sunday's game thinking they have to score a certain number of points (30? 40?) to win. While respecting the danger the Chiefs present, Tampa Bay is not conceding that Sunday's game will be a shootout.
"We're high-powered on defense and we think of ourselves as high-powered, also," said Gruden. "So we're not going to make dramatic changes. We're going to go out and play the game to the best of our abilities and play within our style."
The Bucs' offense doesn't feel any added pressure to score while sharing the field with Kansas City's attack.
"Not with the defense that we have," said wide receiver Tim Brown. "When your defense is struggling maybe you think about it a little bit more. You have to put up 40 points to win the game. We don't think that's going to be the situation this week, but at the same time we have to maximize every chance we have to score. Every time we get the ball we should be able to move up and down the field."
This isn't the first time this season, or even in the last few weeks, that the Bucs were considered offensive underdogs. Tampa Bay faced the same situation in St. Louis in Week Six and easily proved to be the Rams' equal. Though the game ended in St. Louis's favor, 28-21, the Bucs out-gained the Rams, 332 to 324 yards and had 17 first downs to the Rams' 14.
A few extremely costly turnovers gouged the Bucs in that game, but they didn't diminish the team's feeling that it could hang with the established big boys in the league's offensive rankings. Sunday's game against the ... um ... High-Powered Kansas City Chiefs is another such test.
"I wouldn't call it pressure," said . "I think we faced the same situation when we went to St. Louis and played the Rams, who have a great offense. I was excited and I know our offense was excited abut the challenge of trying to meet a great offense on the other side of the field. I don't think it is any different. I am excited about the opportunity to go against not only the Kansas City defense, but also the offense."
More from Gruden
In addition to what's above, Head Coach Jon Gruden touched on several other topics after Wednesday afternoon's practice.
On if he was pleased with how his team came back off the bye: "Yes. I thought we managed the bye week well. We had two good practices on Wednesday and Thursday, another good one on Monday. We appear to be physically ready to go and we also got some work done, which is good."
On looking at other players at punt returner at the end of practice: "We're always looking for other guys, trying to develop that trait. Obviously, [Joey] Galloway is a guy we expect to do that. Tim Brown has done a good job catching the ball and making good decisions. Statistically, if you check it, it's not all bad what his results have been. We'll continue to work with other men and try to develop that trait. It's hard to find."
On if Brian Griese has an advantage having faced the Chiefs under Gunther Cunningham before: "Well, Gunther has changed, just like I've changed and some of you may have changed over the years. He's come from the Tennessee Titans where he was a defensive assistant; some of the style in which he calls his defense you can see the Tennessee Titan edge that he maybe discovered there. But he still is a hard-nosed, tough football coach who's going to play in your face. They're going to play downhill and try to get on your side of the line of scrimmage, and they're going to blitz. You've got to be ready for it."