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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs' Earnest Graham recovering well, but what does future hold?



Injured running back Earnest Graham made a quick cameo in the Bucs locker room this week and was happy to share that he’s encouraged by his recovery from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered last month.

He’s got a long way to go of course. He just ridded himself of his crutches last week, but he’ll soon be aggressively rehabbing the injury. He said that he anticipates being fully healed by May, at which point he intends to find his way onto a football field.

Which begs an interesting question: Whose football field?

Maybe this is premature, but the fact is Earnest Graham becomes a free agent once this season ends. We don’t know who will be coaching the Bucs, what direction they’ll be headed or what their offseason plans might be. So, it’s reasonable to wonder whether we’ve seen the last of Graham, a Tampa Bay fan favorite.

Graham is everything coaches and fans love: A guy who was undrafted but worked his way up from the practice squad to become an invaluable – and most unselfish – member of the club. He’s played special teams, fullback, running back, more fullback, and he’s done it all with willingness and while wearing a smile. All along, Graham has been first class and a shining example for teammates.

This season, he was enjoying an expanded role in the offense as the team’s third-down running back, but his injury in Week 7 against Chicago brought that to an abrupt end.

And now, it’s impossible to know whether he ever dons a Tampa Bay uniform again. Graham is a realist and wouldn’t be offended by me pointing out that he turns 32 next month. That’s considered over the hill for most running backs.

Then again, Graham isn’t most running backs. Assuming he recovers well, he likely would still have value for the Bucs or any other club because of his versatility. Heaven knows the Bucs wish they still had him, given their lack of consistent play from running backs on third downs and in two-minute situations.

What does the future hold for Graham? No one, including the Bucs, knows right now. But this is just one of many issues that will play out during an interesting offseason in Tampa Bay.

And it’s no doubt one that Graham’s many fans will be paying close attention to.

[Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2011 10:43am]


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