Rookie Graham gets into the run of things First backfield appearance results in 5-yard score, 73 yards on 16 carries

September 08, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

When he finally fulfilled a childhood dream by scoring his first NFL touchdown, Ravens rookie running back Jay Graham said he didn't even hear the roar of the Memorial Stadium crowd. He even forgot to ask for the ball as a keepsake.

And when he began to digest the results of his first, live professional test -- 16 carries for 73 yards, two catches for 23 more and a 5-yard scoring run -- Graham raised a hand to blunt the praise he had earned in the postgame locker room.

"I've got a whole lot more to do, a whole lot more to prepare for, and I'm going to realize that when I go into the film room [today]," Graham said.

"I'm not worried about scoring touchdowns. Winning is the biggest priority. The most important thing to me is being prepared when my name is called, my number is called or my play is called."

Graham was ready on all counts throughout yesterday's 23-10 victory over the Bengals. His big moment came five minutes into the second quarter, after veteran Earnest Byner had softened the Cincinnati defense with 53 rushing yards. That's when Graham jogged onto the field with the offense for his first appearance in the backfield.

With a first-down, 9-yard burst off left tackle, Graham promptly showed the quickness that compelled the Ravens to draft him in the third round out of Tennessee. And with that run, Graham's jitters were gone.

"It's like you get in there, and you say to yourself this is your first play. You've dreamed about this since you were 3 years old," said Graham, who played exclusively on special teams in the season opener. "Once you get that first hit, everything just blanks out and you're just making plays."

Which is precisely what Graham did. Three plays later, he caught a pass in the left flat from quarterback Vinny Testaverde and sprinted 19 yards down the sideline to the Cincinnati 30 for another first down.

Those two plays helped set up the Ravens' first score, a 37-yard field goal by Matt Stover that cut the Bengals' lead to 7-3.

Graham did not rejoin the offense until late in the third quarter, with the Ravens trailing 10-6. Receivers Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson quickly combined for 60 yards on two catches, which set the stage for Graham on the Bengals' 5.

On first-and-goal, Graham powered off left guard into the end zone for his first NFL score.

The Ravens took a 13-10 lead they would not relinquish. His teammates congratulated him. The crowd went wild. And Graham responded almost casually by flipping the ball to an official and jogging to the sideline.

Graham saved his most impressive stretch for crunch time. A poor punt return decision by Ray Ethridge left the Ravens with the ball at their 4, protecting a 13-10 lead one minute into the fourth quarter.

Over the next four minutes, 35 seconds, the Ravens took control of the game with a 96-yard touchdown drive -- the longest in team history -- and Graham was largely at the helm. He carried seven times for 48 yards. Six of his runs resulted in first downs.

The drive was defined by Graham breaking off chunks of yardage behind right guard Jeff Blackshear and right tackle Orlando Brown.

"I was feeding off of Jay," Brown said. "I love him. He's a young guy who hits the holes hard."

"When you have 350-pound guys [like Brown] covering up defensive players, that's when you have the advantage," Graham said. "Those big guys are running hard, hitting people, cutting people off. The next thing you know, you start seeing these little gaps in the defense. It's like ballet out there. You just have to be sound and hit the holes with the right technique."

Graham was quite sound in his coming-out party. He produced nine first downs in all, a team high.

"Jay really helped us. He gave us the spark that was needed," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "It was a good change of pace [compared to Byner]. He's got speed, quickness, and he played the kind of football we thought he would."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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