TAMPA — Earnest Graham, who has been with the Bucs longer than any player except Ronde Barber, finally has a starting job as a fullback.
But the 30-year-old Graham has a difficult time thinking of himself as a pure fullback, and he is still listed in NFL literature as a running back.
“I’m prepared to play both,” he said Saturday. “Starting the season I’ll probably be at fullback, but you never know how things will play out. In 2008 I started out as a halfback and we had an injury at fullback, so I ended up playing fullback. It just all depends.”
Running backs Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward are healthy and Graham, who started six games at fullback last season, is the only experienced player the Bucs have at that position. At 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds, he is small for a fullback, but noticeably more bulky than he was when he came out of the University of Florida seven years ago.
“I tried to put a little bulk on this year, be up around 230 as opposed to 220 or 225,” he said. “I’ve played fullback at 225 and I was strong enough to do it so it’s not really a big change for me. Definitely when you get older it’s easier to put weight on so it’s a natural transition.”
In some plays and formations, the positions aren’t all that different, and Graham would rather be thought of as just a good back.
“In this offense, they’reinterchangeable,” he said. “Either guy might split out; either guy might be in the protection and then get into a route. I’ve always been pretty versatile. When I first came in that’s what coach Gruden taught me. I learned the fullback, I learned the halfback, I played special teams.”
BUCS PRACTICE AT RJS
Rookie Mike Williams caught a touchdown pass between two defenders, Ronde Barber had an interception and Reggie Brown caught a long pass in a two-minute drill Saturday night as the Bucs performed a series of football drills at Raymond James Stadium.
After an unimpressive passing-accuracy showdown between quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson, the crowd estimated to be around 24,000 by team officials was treated to fireworks.
“Both quarterbacks got tired and ran out of gas,” explained coach Raheem Morris after Josh Johnson finally hit a moving target on a fifth tiebreaker.
“It was exciting, a great time and I’m glad the fans had an opportunity to enjoy our people,” Morris said. “We had a lot of fun and we got everybody out of here healthy so we’re very happy about that.”
The Bucs open their preseason at Miami next Saturday night.
With the infusion of rookies Williams, Arrelious Benn, Preston Parker and Chris Brooks, Morris has been impressed with the level of competition at wide receiver.
“I don’t know if we’ve seen this dynamic of a group in Tampa in a long time,” he said.
Veterans Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton, Reggie Brown and Sammie Stroughter are also in the competition for no more than six roster spots.
Williams, a fourth-round draft pick out of Syracuse, has been running with the first team.
Stroughter caught 31 passes as a rookie, the most of any Buc wid receiver returning this year.
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