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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Versatile RB Graham still going strong for Bucs

TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unquestionably in a youth movement. Tampa Bay had the youngest NFL team last season. The average age of the players was 25. The final 53-man roster featured 29 players in their rookie, first or second season. Of the 90 players on Tampa Bay's current roster, only three are 30 or older. Cornerback Ronde Barber, 36, is a key component, the final connection to Tampa Bay's Super Bowl team. Jeff Faine, 30, is the starting center. Fullback/running back Earnest Graham is the other ageless wonder, entering his eighth NFL season at 31. Graham will suit up against Miami this Saturday in Tampa Bay's third preseason game.
"It's just been unbelievable," said Graham, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Florida. "I just thank God that I'm still here. Coming in the league the way I did and to still be here with the same organization eight years later speaks a lot. "I'm blessed in that respect to be able to come to work at the same place and be able to build a reputation in the community. There are so many things I'm thankful for." Graham signed with Tampa Bay in April 2003 and spent that season on the practice squad. He finally made the team in 2004 and played in nine games. During his career, Graham has played in 91 games, rushed for 1,841 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. His best season came in 2007 when Graham had 10 starts and rushed 222 times for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns after Cadillac Williams went down with a knee injury. It is a career many of Graham's younger teammates have followed. "It's definitely different," Graham said. "They talk about watching me in college and it definitely can make you feel old. "It's awesome for me to be in the same position that I was in when I was watching Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, a lot of these different guys that I looked up to growing up in the state of Florida and being a football fan. It's cool. I just love being in the position I am right now." The key to Graham's longevity is his unselfishness. Graham has played on special teams, been a starting running back and is currently a fullback. He relinquished his starting running back position to Derrick Ward and Williams in 2009, at which point he volunteered to play fullback. "I think E.G., when he's in the lineup, I dare to say he's our MVP," Faine said. "You can put him anywhere. If we ran out of wide receivers, he could get out there. "That (running backs) room right there is an ego room, traditionally, and he's a very, very non-ego person. Wherever you need him, that's where he's in. I can't say enough positive things about Earnest Graham. I can't. It's impossible for me." It is also tough for coach Raheem Morris, who at 34 is three years older than Graham, not to praise. "I say it everyday, but he's Insurance Graham," Morris said. "I can't say it enough. He's our rock. He plays multiple different positions for us. He's a tailback, he's a fullback, he's a runner, he's a special teams player, he's great character for that room. He teaches our team. "I looked at him one day and said, 'You never complain about anything.' He said, 'I do when you're not listening, but usually I'm okay.' He's just that kind of guy. He's a team guy all the way. He's a joy to be around everyday." Graham is unsure how long he will be around the NFL. Morris wants Graham to be a third-down back this season, but the veteran also knows he cannot play forever. The Bucs are in a youth movement. Graham is still moving with them. "I just take it as it comes," Graham said. "I didn't know eight (years) would come and it came. Anything that comes after this, I'm grateful. If not, I've got to be thankful for what I've done thus far because a very small percentage of people were able to come in the way I did and still play as long as I have. "To still be in the league and still be kind of relevant and depended on by a team is awesome."

arichardson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8425

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