Earnest Graham turns back the clock, leads Bucs running game
Three years removed from the last time he’d performed the role of featured running back, Earnest Graham effortlessly and willingly stepped into that job today with stunning results.
With bruising back LeGarrette Blount out with a knee injury, Graham turned in a 109-yard performance, averaging 6.4 yards on 17 carries.
Among his runs were several lengthy gains, including a long run of 34 yards. Equally impressive was his ability to make tacklers miss, even at 31 and without awe-inspiring athleticism.
Graham showed the value of being a patient runner and displayed his veteran savvy and vision. As a result, the Bucs’ running game didn’t miss a beat.
“Everybody makes a big deal about quickness and speed, but I’ve found out over the years that I haven’t had a problem making long runs,” Graham said. “I don’t look like Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson when I do it, but I’ve never had a problem making explosive plays.
“You have to work with your offensive line. For me, it’s setting up the blocks so the offensive linemen can get to the second level, then I try to take over. I try to get to the secondary and make somebody miss. I’ve never had a problem with that.”
Graham has been a fullback for most of the past two seasons before adding the title of third-down back to his job description this season. He’s always been a man who wore many hats, and starting running back is just his latest.
“If we ask him to play fullback, he plays fullback,” coach Raheem Morris said. “If we ask him to play tailback, he plays tailback. Put him at tight end, he plays tight end. Put him on special teams, he plays special teams. He just does anything you ask him to do. . . He just does it. He gets it. He loves football.”