Graham running in circle Ravens: Since running back Jay Graham's breakout game a year ago, his once-promising career has been stunted by injuries and a demotion.

November 14, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As the season of Jay Graham's discontent rolls on, the Ravens' second-year running back grabs the brace on his left knee and wonders when his troubles will end.

By this point, Graham figured on being the top back on the squad. A year ago, following his breakout game -- a 154-yard rushing effort against Philadelphia -- Graham certainly seemed headed in that direction.

Since then, Graham has dealt with a demotion and several injuries, all of which have relegated the promising third-round pick from Tennessee to the lonely land of the inactive player with a shaky future.

Graham, who has just 109 yards on 35 carries for a 3.1 average with no touchdowns this season, will not accompany the team to San Diego for tomorrow's game, as he prepares to sit out for a fourth straight week.

"I've never had a knee injury, and it's hard to deal with it. I don't fully understand it, really," Graham said. "I still feel like I'm the back of the future -- here or somewhere. But I really don't know what's going to happen."

Surgery could be the next event in Graham's forgettable year, unless his injured knee responds favorably to the running he did this week on the side during the team's practices.

Graham, whose 1997 season came to a premature end soon after he suffered a severe ankle sprain in that same Philadelphia game last Nov. 16, is now dealing with a partial tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Graham, 5 feet 11, 220 pounds, originally hurt the knee during the season's second game against the New York Jets. A magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a sprain two months ago. Graham started the following week in Jacksonville, but was ineffective, then played sparingly in the next two games.

Then, during pre-game warm-ups in Pittsburgh on Oct. 18, pain shot through Graham's knee as he tried a spin move on the Three Rivers Stadium artificial turf. The Ravens de-activated him and sent him back to the team's doctor's for another MRI. The second test showed a tear.

Bill Tessendorf, the Ravens' head trainer, said if Ravens team doctor Claude T. Moorman decides to operate, Graham's season could be over, depending on the amount of damage uncovered.

"I'm disappointed for [Graham] and for us," Ravens running backs coach Al Lavan said. "Jay has no chance right now to show the things he has shown on the football field. His game is rehabbing his knee, it's not football. He has to handle that mentally and methodically.

"When you look at how hard this kid worked in the offseason [to strengthen his ankle], it's unfortunate. All of a sudden, [rehabilitation] is his battle, and he's got to win that battle."

Graham already has lost an important battle. During the off-season, coach Ted Marchibroda anointed Graham as his starting tailback, even after the team had traded for a more-proven veteran runner in Errict Rhett. Marchibroda stuck with Graham throughout the preseason, even as Rhett continued to out-play him.

Finally, four days before the season opener against Pittsburgh, Marchibroda changed his mind and benched Graham, who had lost confidence in August and did not appear decisive enough while hitting holes at the line of scrimmage. Graham did not take the news well, and still bristles at the thought of it.

"A lot of people like to say I wasn't [decisive], but I know I was," Graham said. "That [getting benched] was just another situation I had to deal with."

Earnest Byner, who assists Lavan and knows a thing or two about running the football, recently watched the tape of Graham's knockout performance against the Eagles last year.

"That was an NFL back at the top of his game -- sharp cuts, no hesitation. Where you want to get is as close to a game like that as possible, and maybe peak with that type of game now and then," Byner said.

"Hopefully, Jay will heal and get another opportunity this year, instead of waiting an entire off-season to answer the questions. We still believe in Jay. We still believe he'll be the type of back we drafted him to be."

Graham is holding onto the same belief.

"If I sit back and keep thinking about everything that's gone wrong with me, what's that going to get me?" said Graham, who ranks third on Tennessee's all-time rushing list with 2,609 yards.

"I know the ability I have. The biggest thing I have to do is stay focused, get healthy and get better."

NOTES: Defensive end Michael McCrary went through his second full day of practice yesterday and is ready to start tomorrow. He had been listed as questionable with a knee injury on Thursday. Bryan Still, San Diego's leading receiver, remains questionable with a hamstring injury. About 3,000 tickets remain for the Ravens' final home game against Detroit on Dec. 27.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: San Diego Chargers Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego When: Tomorrow, 4: 05 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM) Line: Ravens by 1

Pub Date: 11/14/98

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