4B - April 19, 2010
t~ 1 F t SC
t arget: NFL quarterbacks
N obody ever beat Jake Long.
Long, the eventual first team All-
American, No.1 pick in the NFL Draft and
Pro Bowl left tackle, an always impenetra-
ble wall, stood tall against all challengers
- literally and physically.
The 6-foot-7 behemoth served as the
gatekeeper of the left side of Michigan's
offensive line from 2004-2007.
Then-head coach Lloyd Carr would
always pit a defensive lineman against an
offensive lineman in one-on-one practice
drills throughout the season.
Long was king, that is, until Brandon
Graham lined up across from him.
The 6-foot-1 defensive end, two years
younger than Long, unleashed his arsenal
of moves against the tackle - speed rush,
bull rush, whatever it took. Graham tested
his will against Long's to get to the quar-
"Once you got around him your confi-
dence went up and you see him get mad
for real," Graham recalled. "Then it's like,
'C'mon I'm serious now,' - like he wasn't
These epic struggles lasted just two
years. Long eventually went on to play for
the Miami Dolphins, while Graham was
left to develop his game. A quarterback-
hungry defensive end with an insatiable
appetite, Graham's work ethic and motor
became legendary to those around the
"Brandon is a very humble guy," Carr
said. "Nobody beat Jake Long, very
much. That was infrequent.
f~Tim Huan Datix Spo t Xr
f you saw Graham around Ann Arbor
he'd come off unassuming, humble
even, certainly not the monster that came
to play on Saturday afternoons in the fall
- no, not him, they couldn't be the same
"He's just all smiles every time," fellow
captain Zoltan Mesko said. "I didn't know
someone could have so many smiles in
them throughout the day."
Graham's impact was felt on the field
during his junior and senior years as his
teammates voted him Bo Schembechler
Team MVP twice (the first time for a
defensive player in school history).
As a captain this past season, Graham
was the one who would get up in front of
his teammates and deliver speeches after
"They weren't forced, and that's what
I liked about it," Mesko said. "He really
came from his heart. People paid atten-
tion because it's generally what he meant,
what he felt about that certain situation,
so he spoke his mind and put it the right
"It's easy to talk off adrenaline before a
game, but who's goingto be the guy to pick
the rest of the guys up after a game. He's
not about getting the attention because
it's before the game, 'Look at me how
hyped I am.' He's the guy who really loves
to get up one more time than he's fallen."
Graham tried to instill in his team-
mates the same fire, love and passion for
the game that he played with
every snap. A fter his junior
eyseason in 2008, Graham
could have made the jump
to the NFL, but he decided to
stay at Michigan to accomplish more.
"He was a guy who had humility," Carr
said. "You know when you make the tran-
sition from high school to college, if you
have those qualities, it makes your adjust-
ment a lot easier. Because (you) realize,
'I've got a lot to learn, (but) I'm confident
in my ability.'
"And the same thing applies when
you leave college and (go) to the NFL....
You have a better chance of fitting in and
being accepted and you have a work ethic
(too), then you're on your way."
The way Mesko and current coach
Rich Rodriguez talk about the graduating
senior, it's as if there's a conversion chart
for Graham's impact on the Wolverines.
Mesko said Graham was worth at least
three to four seniors, and Rodriguez said
last month that it would take all 12 of next
year's seniors to fill Graham's spot.
He led the team on the field through
his play and off the field with his speeches
and by example. NFL teams won't have to
spend too much time checking Graham's
background or being concerned with him
away from the game.
"I tell them, if you get me, I'm about
football and I'm about my business,"
Graham said. "You won't have to worry.
I'm not a risk off the field because I'm all
Before the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala-
bama, back in January, Graham start-
ed to get a little nervous. The guy who was
known for bone-crunching hits was let-
ting doubts about his own abilities creep
into his mind.
So he went and talked to his strength
coach, Mike Barwis.
"Man, this is my first time I'm gonna be
on stage," he told his coach.
"Do what got you there, and you'll be
fine," Barwis responded. "You play in front
of a hundred thousand people. The same
people you see down there will be watch-
ing you on TV, or watching you in the
stands, from scouts to just coaches. They
know what you're about. Just go out there
and do your thing."
And Graham did, to the tune of five
tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in
a game featuring the country's top senior
college football players. Graham took
home the game's MVP.
On display for all to see was what Mich-
igan fans have been witnessing for the
past two seasons - Graham's motor. It's
the first thing analysts talk about when
Graham is mentioned and it has almost
become synonymous with his name.
"When you say motor, you're talking
about a guy who's going as hard as he can
as fast as he can from the snap of the ball
to the whistle," Carr said. "And he doesn't
seem to allow fatigue to factor in and
that's due to his work ethic. But the natu-
ral explosiveness and the motor, those are
Graham never takes a down off, and he
does a lot of his damage in the fourth quar-
ter after wearing down opposing tackles
"I don't think there's a guy in this draft
who plays with a better motor than Gra-
ham," Director of college football scout-
ing for ESPN Scouts Inc. Todd McShay
said. "It starts with the effort. From the
first play to the last play, he's just nonstop.
He really is. And I think he's technically
sound. He's the one guy who's in the posi-
tion he should be, doing the right things
and all that. I just think really the effort
and the toughness are what will impress
scouts the most."
When Graham got to Michigan in
2006, Carr probably gave him the
best advice to advance the young defensive
"Hey, if you don't know what to do, just
watch LaMarr (Woodley)," Carr told him.
"Watch the way he practices. In meetings
make sure you're paying attention and you
can always ask him because he knows he's
been here. And if you try to model yourself
after him, then you couldn't have someone
Woodley, who was a senior when Gra-
ham was a freshman, was selected as a
first-team All-American that year and was
drafted 46th overall in the second round of
the NFL Draft by the Steelers.
Since being drafted, Woodley has made
the transition from predominantly playing
defensive end in college to a full-time out-
side linebacker in the 3-4 for the Steelers.
And he has done it masterfully.
Woodley had six sacks in the 2008 play-
offs as Pittsburgh won all three of its play-
off games, including the Super Bowl. He
was an instrumental part of the modern-
day Steel Curtain.
Graham heeded Carr's advice and
soaked up everything he could during his
one year as Woodley's teammate.
Before Woodley graduated he gave his
prot6g6 some advice of his own.
"You're going to be a good player,"
Woodley told Graham. "Eventually you're
going to have to lead this team. You're
going tobe the man on this team."
And Graham did just that, following in
the tracks that Woodley had laid before
The comparison is something Woodley
sees and acknowledges.
"It's a big similarity," Woodley said of
his play on the field and Graham's. "The
only thing is Brandon is faster than me. I
tell you that. Brandon is faster than me,
hands down faster than me. Other than
that, everything is the same."
In the NFL, Woodley made the Pro
Bowl for the first time in his career this
past season, and has posted 29 sacks in his
first three years in the league.
The two still stay in touch via text mes-
sages. Woodley will make sure Graham
is doing alright off the field and will also
offer advice on how Graham can improve
Woodley, at 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds,
is the physical and logical comparison to
Graham and he could be considered one
of the poster boys for making the switch
from the 4-3 to the 3-4.
"They always compared us," Woodley
said. "When (Graham) came out of high
school, they compared us. Leavingcollege,
they're comparing us again. It's actually a
good thing, because the team's that passed
up on me better not pass up on him."
Michigan's tradition of producing NFL
caliber talent is continuing with Gra-
ham. He had a chance to compete early
on against the likes of Long and alongside
Woodley - and other future NFL players.
Now, carries the pro-bound tradition that
has been ingrained in the historic pro-
"It felt good because just watching him
those two years before I got there, it was
like, 'Man, I'm playing with Woodley, I'm
playing with Mike Hart, Chad Henne, all
those guys,' " Graham said. "I was scared,
because it's like I've got to really come up
there and be able to fill their shoes. It felt
good, once I started seeing that I could do
Before he even played a down of foot-
ball for Michigan, Graham found
himself in Carr's office facing a tough
decision. The Detroit native was recruited
as a linebacker coming out of high school
and weighed about 240 pounds during his
senior year of high school, as Carr recalls.
But when Graham showed up for summer
practices, he had gained 20 to 30 pounds.
So Carr decided to meet with the young
"Now look, there's no way from a con-
ditioning standpoint that you can come in
here and play linebacker," Carr told him.
"I mean you're going to have to cut some
He didn't cut any weight. So Carr gave
him an ultimatum.
"The best we can (do), is we can redshirt
you, or if you want to play, we'll put you
down and put you on the defensive line,"
Carr told him.
He wanted to play - was there any
doubt that he would?
The move paid off. But Graham feels
right at home now despite questions from
reporters, scouts and general manag-
ers speculating whether he can make the
transition from defensive end to standing
up and playing linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
He's been playing linebacker since he was
seven years old - it comes natural for Gra-
"He's one of those guys, he's got won-
derful explosion and burst and so he was a
natural," Carr said. "As I look at him, I've
had a lot of people call me from the NFL,
as I look at him, he can be a 4-3 defen-
sive end. But there's no doubt in my mind
that he can also be a stand-up linebacker,
because he's very athletic, very quick. So I
don't know what's going to happen to him.
But he gives any defensive coordinator
With the growing popularity of the 3-4
defense in the NFL with the league split
about 50-50 between teams that predomi-
nantly run the 4-3 versus the 3-4 scheme,
the need for 'tweeners' like Graham has
soared in recent years. The transition from
playing with your hand on the ground to
starting every play standing up and having
to drop into coverage more as a linebacker
is a big move for defensive ends.
Guys who can play defensive end and
outside linebacker are valuable, but it's an
inexact science when it comes to evaluat-
ing who can make the switch to the 3-4.
"There's a little bit of a leap of faith
there with a lot of players who come into
the league and play outside linebacker in
a 3-4 system," Denver Broncos head coach
Josh McDaniels said. "A lot of them are
defensive ends and you've never seen them
Green Bay Packers General Manager
Ted Thompson added: "There's more pro-
jecting of pass rushers to those 34 outside-
linebacker positions, it's a very difficult
thing to do. Because if a guy has never
stood up and played before, just because
he can run fast or do drills, it doesn't nec-
essarily mean that he can stand on his feet
and play the game. But it does work out
sometimes. As much as we can, we try and
stick with guys who have proven they can
play the game."
The switch doesn't work for everyone.
Before the 2009 season, when the Pack-
ers switched to a 3-4 defense, they decided
to keep their premier pass rusher Aaron
Kampman in the mix and shifted the
6-foot-4 260-pound defensive end to out-
Kampman's season was cut short due
to injuries and in nine games he recorded
only 3.5 sacks.
Known for a motor of his own, Kamp-
A of a sudden, the quarterback is there,
he's look ing down the field and bang!liHe's
on t e ground. And somebody has hit him
and knocked him (down)I That's what I
remembered when I wat ched him."
managers who prefer their pass rushers to
be the taller prototype ends.
At just 6-foot-1, Graham is comparable
to the 5-foot-11 Dumervil and the 6-foot-0
Dumervil easily led the NFL in sacks
last year with 17, and Harrison is one year
removed from being the NFL's Defensive
Player of the Year, helpingthe Steelers win
a Super Bowl.
"That has changed with the growth of
you could do it, once a month, you'd feel
awfully good. So he did have, occasional-
ly, some success against Jake, which told
us all that he was the real deal."
Graham ripped and clubbed his way
through Michigan's opponents through-
out his career and was named co-winner
of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football
last season, given to the best player in the
Big Ten as voted on by the coaches.
The 29.5 career sacks and 56 career
tackles for loss speak for themselves. And
all that production came in just 28 starts
at defensive end.
On Thursday, the first round of the
NFL Draft will take place in prime-
time and Graham has a good chance of
being among the first 32 selected.
His sights are set on NFL quarter-
"What happens if you watch a game,
and all of a sudden a guy appears to
come from nowhere, and he did that I
can't tell you how many times," Carr
said. "All of a sudden, the quarterback
is there, he's looking down the field
and bang! He's on the ground. And
somebody has hit him and knocked him
(down). That's what I remembered when
I watched him."
man was a force off the edge for the Pack-
ers in the 4-3 defense, racking up 37 total
sacks the previous three seasons in the
system and was probably one of the rea-
sons he was signed by the Jacksonville
Jaguars this past offseason after leaving
Graham, on the other hand, has had
experience standing up before his time as
a Wolverine, and even stood up a little in
some plays while at Michigan and dropped
back into coverage.
"I knew I always wanted to stand up,
because that was my dream, coming out
playing that linebacker (position)," Gra-
ham said. "on the D-line I had to adjust.
I think I'll fit straight in as soon as I get
"I feel good coming off (the edge). I got
the speed and strength to come off that
ball. And most tackles are scared of that.
After every game I always get a compli-
ment about (my) tackling. That's always
been my dream for somebody to come
compliment me after a game."
It all came together for Graham: the
pursuit, the motor, the pass-rush moves
and the ability. It might not matter which
position he plays in the NFL - he can do
There's one thing that's never going to
change nomatter what scheme a teamruns
- gettingito the quarterback is important.
"That's unbelievably valuable in our
league," Thompson said.
When Graham's name is called dur-
ing the NFL Draft he may have to
send thank you cards to the Denver Bron-
cos' Elvis Dumervil and the Pittsburgh
Steelers' James Harrison. The pair paved
the way for Graham to make an impact in
the NFL despite narrow-minded general
the tackles," Steelers Director of Football
operations Kevin Colbert said of the stero-
typical thinking. "As the tackles get taller,
they have a little more trouble with the
Elvis Dumervil's and James Harrison's
who aren't quite 6-(foot)-3 because they're
great leverage players. I don't think you
ever want to get locked into a prototypical
size, we all want that, but you can't shut
out a good player just because he mightnot
But both of those players play as out-
side linebackers in 3-4 defenses, a posi-
tion Graham might be asked to switch to
because of his lack of height.
Graham plays with leverage though,
even against tackles who are much taller
than him and often have more than 50
pounds on him. One way to combat a lack
of size is having long arms to work around
bigger tackles. But Graham's arms are just
over 32 inches long, almost four inches
shorter than Dumervil's. It's those long
arms that McDaniels attributes to Dumer-
Without the arm length, Graham has to
play with that leverage and avoid staying
in the shadow of towering tackles when
the ball is snapped. In the NFL, there is
no shortage of tall good offensive tackles,
especially considering that the average
height of offensive tackles selected to the
2010 Pro Bowl was over 6-foot-5.
Either way, whether he stays as a 4-3
defensive end or switches to become a 3-4
outside linebacker, Graham knows how to
get to the quarterback. Scouts and coaches
who have watched his tape leading up to
the draft can see that, he's a pass rusher no
matter where you play him.
"I look for a good player," Thompson
said. "There are probably ideal heights
and lengths and stuff like that in terms of
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
the body makeup that you look for, but it
doesn't necessarily translate into the best
3-4 outside linebacker."
With his stout stature and sneakily fast
speed, Graham can use a whole book of
moves on a left tackle when trying to get
to the quarterback. It may have helped
him best Jake Long years ago, and it
makes up for his lack of height at the posi-
"Leverage and hands," McShay said
of how Graham overcomes his size. "He
does a good job of staying low not let-
ting offensive linemen get into his body
as much. And he does a great job of get-
ting offensive linemen's hands off, swim
moves, rips, clubs, all those different
techniques. He has a lot in his bag he pulls
out in terms of pass rush moves and just
ways to disengage, and I think that really
Like Dumervil, who was initially
undervalued because of his size and
widely considered a situational pass
rusher instead of an every-down player,
and like Harrison who went undrafted,
Graham is a guy anyone would want on
their team because of the heart, because
of the motor, and maybe most important-
ly because of his will.
"Even though I'm 6-1, or whatever size
I am, I've got the heart to go out there and
compete with everybody any size, it don't
matter," Graham said. "Because between
those lines it doesn't matter, it's all about
It's almost fitting that the start of Gra-
ham's Michigan career didn't exactly
go the way one might have expected.
The intense worker, who always
brought his best on the field fell asleep
while sitting at an abdominal machine
in the early afternoon of one of his first
workouts on the football team. Mesko
said the guys gave him a hard time about
it, but Graham's career as a Wolverine
certainly finished with a bang.
Graham had seven tackles and two
sacks in his last game at Michigan, wrap-
ping up a senior year with 26.5 tackles for
loss and 10.5 sacks.
"I think he's a great football player,"
McShay said. "He's a monster. He's
strong, tough, technically sound."
McShay said that he would easily take
Graham somewhere in the top-20 picks
in the draft. But Graham's goal is to be
picked in the top 10. Still, his mindset is
going to be the same, no matter where he
goes or what position he plays.
"I've just said that I'm going to go out
there and compete," he said. "And I've
asked them what they want to see from
me, since I'm so small. I think they want
to see (me) to go out there and work hard.
"I just go with my motor, I just know
I'm going to get to the ball on every play.
I'm going tobe around the ball on film on
every play. That's what I take pride in."
The motor man is going to keep on
going, and going and going.