Running back Earnest Graham believes this year's Bucs offense might be the best he's ever played on in the NFL, and although there aren't many pundits picking Tampa Bay to reach the Super Bowl, Graham said he'd be "shocked if the Bucs missed the playoffs.
Bucs running back Earnest Graham doesn't mind sharing the workload in Tampa Bay's backfield, and for good reason.
Graham, who has rushed for 1,461 yards and 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons, believes Tampa Bay's offense, which ranked 14th overall in the NFL in 2008, is the best he's ever played on as a pro.
"This offense has got to be the mot talented offense since I got here," said Graham. "Our quarterbacks are making plays, our receivers are making plays, and our offensive line is awesome. The scheme we have here suits us well. Right now, I think we have a great chance, but right now we just have to go out there and put our time in."
That means becoming a more physical team. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris challenged his players with becoming more physical by showing them previous game clips vs. the Carolina Panthers, who have physically dominated Tampa Bay since '03.
The 5-foot-9, 225-pound Graham has already proven to be mentally tough by becoming a successful NFL running back after entering the league as an undrafted free agent.
On Saturday, Graham reminded the coaches that he is physically tough as well, displaying impressive strength during a resistance training drill that required the backs to hold onto the ball while it was tied to a bungee cord. Running backs coach Steve Logan had to end that drill prematurely after Graham snapped the ball/bungee cord off the post it was tied to.
"I did the other guys a favor and just pulled it off the post," Graham said smiling. "I was just looking out for my teammates. It's a good drill as far as ball security is concerned. I just stretched it out to the point where I pulled it right off the pole."
Graham believes the Bucs, particularly the team's stable of running backs, is completely capable of physically dominating games like Carolina did in its last meeting vs. Tampa Bay, rushing for 299 yards.
"Derrick [Ward] brings some attitude to the system and Cadillac [Williams] looks great," said Graham. "He's coming along, very explosive off of his cut. And Clifton Smith, returning Pro Bowler, real electric guy could make some splash plays. I think we're a very interesting group and I think we're going to be able to last the whole season. I think we've got a group here that'll allow us to finish the season strong.
"To be physical you've got to be fresh and deep. We've got some very physical receivers as well as in the backfield. We've got some guys that are north south and are going to get some extra yards. I think we're deep and that'll allow us to play physical football."
The Bucs are running a zone blocking scheme under Jeff Jagodzinski, which allows the backs to use their instincts more. Ward has been successful in that type of system from his playing days in New York when he and Brandon Jacobs each rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2008.
Graham, 29, believes he and Ward can have that type of success in Tampa Bay. He knows the Bucs offense must be able to run the football if it is going to rank in the top 10, which is something it did just one time during Jon Gruden's seven-year tenure in Tampa Bay.
"Without a doubt. We've definitely seen in other systems where guys have had a ton of success," said Graham. "I think we've got the talent to get that done, up front and in the backfield. I would like to shoot for it. I think we can get it done.
"The way the league is going right now, if you can't run the ball, you can't do anything. There are a lot of positives to run the ball. Once we establish that ground game, we'll be able to do some things down the field."
But running the football effectively and physically are just a few of the goals the Bucs have in 2009. The Bucs are attempting to lay the foundation for post-season play.
One would be hard pressed to find a pundit that has predicted the young and rebuilding Bucs to make the playoffs in 2009, but Graham said he and his teammates are confident in what this Tampa Bay team is capable of doing this season.
"I think I'll be shocked if we don't make the playoffs," said Graham.
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