Graham back in plans, underlining hope for revived running game His talent is undisputed

Ravens hope he's learned pass-protection lessons

October 17, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff

Jay Graham's future is almost here.

Ever since the Ravens failed to mount a running game in the team's 42-34 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, Graham has been part of coach Ted Marchibroda's plan to develop a rushing attack.

Graham, the team's third-round pick out of Tennessee, has been getting more repetitions with the first and second units this week. He is always one of the last players to leave the practice field, working an extra hour to improve his pass blocking, a deficiency that has resulted in less playing time.

And now, maybe now, Graham is ready to play.

Maybe.

"We plan to play Jay, let him run in this ball game. We anticipate that," said Marchibroda about Sunday's game with the Miami Dolphins at Memorial Stadium.

"I've gotten more repetitions, but no one has told me anything about playing more," Graham said. "I don't have expectations because expectations lead to heartache. My job is to be prepared, and that's the way I'm still going to go about it."

Graham has good reason to be a little pessimistic. When the team was without suspended star running back Bam Morris during the first four games of the season, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Graham showed promise in two of those games, rushing for 73 yards on 16 carries against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second game and for 51 yards on nine carries against the Tennessee Oilers in the fourth game.

Since then, Graham hasn't touched the ball.

"I didn't come here thinking I was going to be starting at any specific point," he said. "I think I did all right in those games, but I also think I have progressed a lot since then. I'm a lot stronger, a lot more comfortable with the offense."

Some of the offensive linemen were comfortable with Graham even in his early stages. He is the ultimate complement to Morris and No. 2 running back Earnest Byner.

Morris runs with power, and Byner has durability and elusiveness, the ability to make something out of nothing. Graham is the Ravens' change-of-pace back, with acceleration, power, explosiveness and big-play capabilities.

"Jay Graham is going to be one heck of a ballplayer," Ravens right offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "He's a guy who runs hards, hits the hole fast and, once he gets into the open field, no one is going to catch him."

Guard Jeff Blackshear said: "Without a doubt, he has the ability to play in this league. He did well in the Bengals game, but I think the reason he hasn't played more was because we passed the ball so much. But now that we're going back to a balanced attack, I think we're going to see more of him."

Graham admits pass protection, an art that is stressed in the Ravens' pass-oriented offense, has been his Achilles' heel.

After each practice, Graham has been going one-on-one with rookie linebackers Tyrus McCloud and Cornell Brown. Learning how to pass-block and picking up blitzes has also meant more time studying film.

"Looking at some of the things Jay needed to do, he shouldn't have gotten more playing time," Byner said. "Jay needed to improve on his pass protection and, basically, just his overall knowledge of where he had to be in pass-protection situations."

"Obviously, it is something he's been working on and it's a hard thing to do," Byner said. "Running is easy, because it's so natural. Pass-blocking requires a lot of technique, and a lot of running backs don't want to do it.

"First, you have to get an understanding of it, then execute it. I give Jay credit; he wants to do it. But it's hard to say if he can be successful in this league. We can predict because he has the quickness and the power, but now it all comes down to Jay getting out there."

That's all Graham wants. He wants to show the Ravens why he is Tennessee's third all-time leading rusher with 2,609 yards and has the breakaway speed the team needs badly from a running back.

And now, maybe now, Graham can help protect the passer and erase any fears Marchibroda has in starting rookies.

"One of my biggest assets has been the ability to learn from others," Graham said. "From Earnest, I've learned how to practice, to work hard every day and try to get the fullest out of my potential. From Bam, I've learned how to have confidence in my ability because Bam plays big, he runs big. How many people can miss a month and come back and play like they never missed a step?

"You know, I never started right away in college, or even in high school," Graham said. "Then when I got my turn, I just tried to make the best of it. I've gotten better at pass protection; so much better. It involves shifting the weight and technique, but I've got confidence. I'm ready if called upon."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Miami Dolphins

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Dolphins by 1 1/2

Series: First meeting

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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