One day of Bills minicamp down and though we’ve been hearing about Mark Anderson’s dominant play in 11-on-11 drills (he caused numerous incompletions stampeding into the backfield), as well as Steve Johnson’s return (he ran routes on about 10 plays, more or less feeling things out again), there was a much better story.
T.J. Graham looks good — really good.
At NC State, wide receiver Graham transitioned from a track star to a solid speed threat on the football field, leading the team with 46 catches and 757 yards in 2011, scoring seven TDs.
That All-American track speed made him virtually uncatchable on the field in space and gave him the goods to rack up big yards in the kicking game as well.
For his career, Graham has 137 kick returns for 3,153 yards (the all-time ACC leader) and averaged 22.4/return in 2011, but it was his receiving skills that seem to be impressing the most to start minicamp.
During Buffalo OTAs last month, he was already creating a little buzz due to a beautiful 40-yard TD catch in stride, though he was focused more on learning the offensive playbook than doing any real work on the field.
Regardless, T.J. got plenty of reps with the first team as he was not only called on often to stand in for Stevie, but has had to get work at all four receiver positions to help gauge his skill-set more.
As Fitzpatrick stated, “In our offense, you need to know all four positions… it’s going to be easier [for T.J.] to know his assignments,” so all this extra work, from catching quick slants in the slot to going deep in the flanker spot, will pay off big when he gets on the field.
This week started off in spectacular fashion for Graham, who had two pretty catches, one in stride down the seam (a big hit that would have seen him go for six had it been a real game) and the other in a tight window at the back of the end zone during red zone drills.
As he’s obviously becoming more comfortable with the playbook and what’s expected out of him at any spot on the field, he can start focusing on running routes and reading defenses. Graham himself said, “I’m getting to the point now where I can forget about what I have to do and just look at the defense,” meaning he’s coming along nicely.
As he’s showing real progress in his receiving game, it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up slotted on the depth chart for Buffalo in 2012. With Johnson playing split-end primarily, Donald Jones, David Nelson, Marcus Easley, and Graham are in a dogfight to see where they’ll end up spending the most time this season.
However, as the first three options are largely only useful in the passing game, the big time return statsT.J. put up in college give him the added bonus of being able to effectively contribute to special teams and get him an assured spot where he can show some immediate upside for the Bills while he’s progressing as a pro-level receiver.
Either way, it looks like the Bills are pleased with what they see from Graham and should feel much more confident that they’re offense has options should injuries start to affect the receivers. As the new Roscoe Parrish-style player in Buffalo, T.J. should see work all over the field and, if he can stay injury-free (which Roscoe couldn’t), should evolve into a deep threat receiver who can draw the safety and/or the corner, freeing up others for big receptions.
Even if he doesn’t trick the defensive backs into focusing on him, Graham has already started to show that he is not only becoming more consistent, but has the goods to make plays in his own right.
The depth for Buffalo just keeps getting deeper, it seems. Can’t wait to start the season.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation