Buccaneers veteran Earnest Graham said that he is the starting fullback at this time, and his goal is to make the Pro Bowl as a fullback. Tampa Bay rookie CB Myron Lewis is still day-to-day with abdominal injury. Plus notes from Bucs DE Kyle Moore and WR Sammie Stroughter in this OTA notebook.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran Earnest Graham is running with his position change from halfback to fullback. Graham is fully recovered from a toe injury that ended his 2009 season prematurely and is practicing fully during the Bucs' OTAs (organized team activities). On Tuesday Graham said he is running with the first-team offense at fullback over second-year pro Chris Pressley and rookie Rendrick Taylor.
"Right now I'm a starter at fullback. As long as I'm on the field I'm good," said Graham.
Not only has Graham embraced his position change, but he also has lofty goals for what he can achieve at his new spot.
"I'm shooting to be a Pro Bowl fullback," said Graham. "I really believe every time I catch the ball in the flat it can be a first down. I think I can break a few [tackles]. I'm focusing on being a fullback and catching 60 passes. I think I can really do that. Once Josh [Freeman] gets really comfortable and I'm running routes outside the backfield. I think we can do some damage out there."
Graham came close to making 60 catches in a season three years ago when he was the Buccaneers starting tailback. In 2007 Graham caught 49 passes for 324 yards while starting 10 games. Graham was Tampa Bay's workhorse back that season when he ran for 898 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns on 222 attempts. That year was the last time the Bucs went to the playoffs.
In 2008 Graham was splitting carries with running back Warrick Dunn before an ankle injury ended Graham's season with six games to go. That season Graham averaged 4.3 yards per carry and totaled 563 yards on 132 carries with four touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 174 yards. While Graham is the current starter at fullback, he is still learning the offense as a running back. The double duty doesn't present any problems for Graham.
"Not really. I play both and special teams," said Graham. "I've done it before. I'm naturally kind of a fullback, but can play both positions. It isn't a big adjustment for me to play fullback. I did it my first couple of years here."
The 5-foot-9, 225-pound Graham played in 13 games in 2009. Entering the season Graham and running back Derrick Ward were projected to be the Buccaneers leading running backs. Former first-round pick Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams was coming back from his second devastating knee injury in as many seasons. Williams (5-11, 217) surprised many with his performance in training camp and went on to be the Bucs starting running back and leading rusher in 2009. Williams totaled 823 yards with four touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
Graham, 30, had 14 carries for 66 yards last season and had 14 receptions for 109 yards. Many projected the Florida-product Graham to be behind Pressley on the depth chart because Pressley has been a fullback throughout college and his first year in the NFL. Plus Pressley impressed the Bucs coaching staff with his ability to pick up the offense, and he showed a powerful punch as a lead blocker. Pressley was signed off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad during the 2009 season, and played in seven games for Tampa Bay with three starts. With Graham learning both positions, Pressley (5-11, 260) and Graham could form a powerful duo in short-yardage and goal line situations.
"I'm sure it is going to work itself out. Derrick is like 235, so we're going to have a power formation in there," said Graham. "Whenever Pressley is on the field it is a power formation because all of our backs can run with power."
With Williams, Ward, and Graham Tampa Bay has three very accomplished running backs. Last year the Bucs had a hard time getting many carries for Ward and Graham. Last year Ward ran for 409 yards on 114 carries with one touchdown and averaged 3.6 yards per carry. He also caught 20 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Ward and Graham combined for 128 carries while Williams had 211 carries last season. Graham said due to quality of his teammates it could work to have so many accomplished backs playing together but not getting the same amount of carries.
"It can because of the type of guys we have," said Graham. "The way I came up I kind of understand things. When I came here Thomas Jones was here, and Mike Pittman, and [Mike] Alstott. It is like that everywhere if you look at other rosters. I grew up pretty special because we have a lot of humble guys. I love blocking for Cadillac. I truly, truly do. For me it is winning. Now its' my seventh year. It is winning."
LEWIS IS STILL DAY-TO-DAY
Buccaneers third-round pick Myron Lewis is still day-to-day with an abdominal strain. Lewis is projected to be a prime competitor for Tampa Bay's nickel cornerback as a rookie. The Vanderbilt product was limited during the Bucs rookie mini-camp and first set of OTAs with the injury. Lewis was held out of Tuesday's OTA, but expects to be back soon.
"I'm feeling good. Its' a slow process and we're taking the time to get it right," said Lewis. "We don't want to over stress the issue. I'm relaxing and making sure I get back to 100 percent. I'll be ready to go (soon). I'm waiting on their call. I'm taking it slow. I feel good. It's a day-to-day."QUOTE OF THE DAY
Second-year wide receiver Sammie Stroughter talked about the noticeable maturation in Freeman from a year ago when the two were rookie roommates.
"A ton, a lot. It is crazy how much you can see that," said Stroughter. "The way he verbalizes himself, and his body language on the field. He's taking command. Last year you could see it, but now you see the sun shine brighter. He's going in there with a smile and having fun. It is not as much pressure. Its' his show, the faster he believes that the sky is the limit."
QUOTE OF THE DAY II
Buccaneers defensive end Kyle Moore on the improvement of the Bucs defense in OTAs this year compared to last year.
"The defense is clicking all the way right now," said Moore. "Our linebackers are getting the calls down to us. We are picking up our coverages the right way. We aren't having a lot of busts either on our defense, so its' pretty good."
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