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WR Graham trying to find his niche

Posted Jun 27, 2012


Rookie minicamp wasn’t all that intimidating for T.J. Graham. He was surrounded by players from his own draft class and several other rookies. Everyone was learning the playbook at a reduced speed. That all changed come OTAs, when the veterans entered the fold. The third-round pick suddenly found himself way behind the other receivers’ level of offensive understanding and with good reason.

Nine of the other 11 receivers on Buffalo’s roster have been in the system for at least a year already. Only David Clowney and fellow rookie Derek Session are as new to the offense as Buffalo’s third-round pick.

“Everybody else is on the same page,” said head coach Chan Gailey of his offensive unit. “Everybody has been here. Even the twos have all been here. We have hardly any new faces on offense except for a couple of linemen and him. Everybody else has been here and knows the system. So we’re trying to catch him up.”

Entering season three under Gailey, the offense is at a very advanced stage of development. That development can’t wait on a rookie receiver if the scheme itself is to progress. At the same time they’d like to make use of Graham’s elite speed to stretch the field and keep opposing defenses from flooding the underneath zones with defenders.

So throughout the spring practices Graham ran with the first unit as the offensive staff tried to get him as many reps as possible. In the end however, Graham is depending on his own work ethic and dedication to master an offense that’s relatively complex.

“The second hardest position to play on offense is probably receiver right now because we have to learn every single position because we substitute in for ‘Y’s and ‘R’s and we also have the ‘X’ and ‘Z’ position,” Graham told Buffalobills.com. “So we have to know each one, different formations, different positions and also what the quarterback is thinking when he sees the defense. We have to think about what he sees while we’re running it at the same time. It’s pretty tough. You can’t be a dummy playing receiver.”

Buffalo’s offense demands that receivers understand the entire concept of the play, not just their route assignment. So although Graham spent most of his time in the OTAs and minicamp at the ‘Z’ or flanker position, he has to know the the collective design of the play to operate effectively within the scheme.

“I’ll just say this, he’s a kid that works his butt off,” said receivers coach Bob Bicknell. “He studies. He was texting me every night about things we’d have the next day.”

During OTAs and minicamp Graham said he’d typically study the playbook from nine to at least midnight.

“I’d go to bed late but I’d be in the playbook,” said Graham. “So I’d have questions myself from drawing stuff up. I'd check with coach Bick the next day to see if I was right.”

The last week of spring workouts, Graham did turn in a pair of touchdown plays on the same day during team drills effectively flashing his pull away speed. The Bills just hope they can harness that talent and add another threat to a receiving corps that could surprise some opponents this season.

“He caught the ball well,” said Gailey. “He can run fast. He can catch a football. I’m anxious to see how he can develop as time goes on.”