Graham on contract: "It needs to get done"
Bucs running back Earnest Graham speaks to the media about his contract situation after morning practice. [Brian Cassella, Times]
Running back Earnest Graham made his first appearance of the off-season at the Bucs' mandatory minicamp Tuesday and expressed optimism that he will have a new contract soon. (See audio slideshow)
But he stopped short of a guarantee that he would report to training camp on time if talks have not produced a new deal by the July 25 reporting date.
"What has to be done sometimes has to be done,'' Graham said. "I'm here today for the mandatory (minicamp). We're going to break after this minicamp and all get ready for (training) camp. I'm doing the same thing I've always done. I'm working hard in the off-season and getting ready for camp. That other thing will take of itself.
"Right now, whatever our reporting date is, I'm going to be there. Like I say, hopefully something will get done before then. I won't say anything whether or not (I'll be there). I'm being optimistic about it. Like I say, I don't know.''
Graham, who became the starter at running back following injuries to Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, rushed for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns last season in leading the Bucs to an NFC South title. He has one-year left on his contract that would pay him a base salary of about $605,000 in 2008.
"I think a lot of people stood up and played well,' Graham said. "I think a lot of people benefitted from what happened last year and I think everybody will be taken care of.'
Coach Jon Gruden said Graham reported to minicamp Tuesday in good physical condition.
"He's always in shape, you know Earnest,'' Gruden said. "He's going to be ready to go. These matters have a way of working themselves out."
Graham said he has no timetable for reaching an accord with the Bucs.
"It needs to get done. I'm not really stressing the time frame or anything like that. It just needs to get done. They know that, I know that. And I think because of that, it'll happen.
On Tuesday, Graham split reps with running backs Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett. He says he's not worried about falling behind on the depth chart.
"I don't usually think about that,'' Graham said. "Even in past years, I've kind of taken off as far as off-season workouts and worked myself out and tried to improve on the things I need to improve on. I've been in this offense for five years, so just me coming out, getting back into the verbiage, it's pretty simple for me. I welcome all the guys.
"I've been here through a lot of great players: Thomas Jones, Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott, Charlie Garner -- so it's just another year...I'm very anxious for what I think we can do as a team. I think we let a game get away from us there against the Super Bowl champions. I think we all need to improve certain aspects of our game. Me personally, I'd like to be there and get significant playing time, whether it's starting or not, at the beginning of the year.''