There was a surprise attendee at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers FanFest on Saturday. Running back Earnest Graham came to the event, despite having missed all of the team's organized team activities. When Graham concluded signing autographs and taking pictures with Bucs fans, Graham spoke exclusively to Pewter Report. Graham addressed many of the topics and rumors that have been associated with him this offseason.
"I won't say anything as far as contract but I love this organization," said Graham. "I've been a part of it for five years. There is mutual respect on both sides. I feel good about them, and they feel the same about me. I think those two things will lead to [a new contract] getting done."
When asked if he will be a Buccaneer a year from now after his current contract is up, Graham gave a definitive answer.
"Yeah. I will be. I will be," said Graham.
Graham is not the only party in the contract negotiations that appears optimistic. On Friday at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Bucs' general manager Bruce Allen seemed optimistic that a contract extension would get done with Graham. Allen commented, "I'm sure it's going to work out."
In 2007, Graham enjoyed a breakout season. He ran the ball 222 times for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a receiver, Graham hauled in 49 passes for 324 yards. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound back was sure handed as well, he only had one fumble during the season. Graham, 28, could have had well over 1,000 yards rushing. He did not play in the final game of the regular season, and had only nine carries the week before. The Buccaneers chose to rest Graham after winning the NFC South. Graham also did not enter the starting lineup until Week 6 of the season.
Being in the last year of his contract with the Bucs, many people thought Graham was avoiding the team's practices to show his displeasure with not having a contract extension. Graham was asked directly if his absence from OTAs was contract-related.
"No. OTAs are voluntary," said Graham. "Of course we happen to be talking about the contract, and hopefully it will get done at some point. I'm a happy person, man."
While Graham has missed voluntary workouts, he told Pewter Report that he will be at the mandatory mini-camp and will not hold out of training camp. In past offseasons, Graham has been known to prepare on his own for training camp.
"I always have," said Graham. "Last year I didn't [make] any OTAs, but as far as workouts I made like 13, so I've always worked out on my own. It's not anything against our team. I just always kind of have, even when I was an insignificant player. You know what I'm saying? That's just something I've always done."
Allen echoed Graham's comments about him not being at team offseason workouts.
"As we talked before, he didn't make it to a lot of last offseason's workouts," said Allen. "It's given some players an opportunity to get some extra turns in practice and extra reps. I think a lot of those players have taken advantage of that to get ready for the competition, and we're going to have great competition at training camp."
Since Graham last carried the ball for the Buccaneers, the organization has added a number of players at his position. The team re-signed running back Michael Bennett, and signed free agent and former Buc, Warrick Dunn. Tampa Bay drafted running back Cory Boyd, and signed undrafted free agent Clifton Smith. With Carnell "Cadillac" Williams coming back from an injury at some point in 2008, the Buccaneers have a lot of depth at running back. Graham answered if he was concerned about this starting position due to the Bucs new additions and his absences from practice.
"No, I expect to go into camp and just compete like everybody else does," said Graham. "I'm sure it's a lot better to be there, but a I'll be in it.
"We have a great set of backs," said Graham. "I feel like we have four backs who have played, as well as the fullback, who are capable of being Pro Bowl players."
While Graham has been working out on his own, he has been keeping pace with any new wrinkles the Bucs are adding to head coach Jon Gruden's offense. This year Graham has a new running backs coach in Rich Bisaccia.
"I've been in connect in with Rich," said Graham. "I've been here for five years so I feel that I know this offense inside and out, and I've been in contact with a lot of the running backs and we talk regularly."
The competition at running back will get more intense very soon with Graham taking part. The Buccaneers will hold their mandatory mini-camp this week. Upon the conclusion of mini-camp, the team will meet next for training camp in Orlando in late July.
FanFest Sets Record
The Buccaneers set a record for their attendance at FanFest on Saturday. Bucs officials said it was had the largest crowd of FanFest's history. Less than a handful of Buccaneer players were not present at the event, and the entire coaching staff came to meet fans.
Buccaneer players like Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Jeff Garcia, Gaines Adams, Barrett Ruud, and rookie first-round pick Aqib Talib spent time with fans. Allen and Gruden, and all the players signed autographs for over two hours. Buccaneer alumni were present as well. Mike Alstott, James Wilder, Kevin House, Mark Royals, and Dave Moore were just a few of the retired Tampa Bay players who came to greet the fans.
At Raymond James Stadium, fans were able to take tours of the pirate ship, play some football on the field, enjoy a number of free giveaways, and be entertained by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders.
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