The big play has always gone hand-in-hand with T.J. Graham. Unfortunately, so has the big drop.
The punt return for a touchdown would inevitably be followed by a dropped pass that hit Graham right between the numbers. The upside of Graham has always been worth the downside, but as the most experienced returning receiver Graham now wants to eliminate the downside completely.
"I've had some pretty big drops in the past – I've always had big plays – but a lot of drops." Graham said. "[Without the drops] I could have made my career even better."
In a word, Graham wants to be consistent. Cutting down on the drops without losing the speed and elusiveness that made him one of the ACC's best return men has the potential to turn Graham into a true receiving threat for the Pack and help replace the production of Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams.
"I've waited my turn, I've learned from the guys in front of me," Graham said. "I feel like they prepared me to be at this point. Just watching what they've done in the past you know, I've tried to take what they've done and make it my own. I'm ready. I'm pretty excited – pretty happy. You always want to be that person and even if I wasn't ready [before] I've made myself ready so that I can be the man for my teammates."
A large part of his summer preparation involved tennis. No, Graham was not learning how to volley and server – he was using tennis balls to develop better hand-eye coordination. He came up with a couple of drills and got the entire wide receiving core involved in his tennis ball fascination.
"Catching a lot of tennis balls," Graham said. "Things that make me use my eyes a lot. Make me have to focus a lot more. We had a circle of receivers, a square or receivers, a triangle – any shape you could think of – throwing the balls back and forth. We even had Torry Holt out here and showed him some of the drills I had made up – catching two balls one in each hand. Reversing, crisscrossing the balls – throwing them as hard as we can at each other at point blank range. Stuff like that."
Graham said he's always had a knack for coming up with drills on his own. It's a skill he hopes to keep using even after his playing days are over.
"I'm always making up drills and stuff," Graham said. "Just waiting my turn to be a coach, just too young right now."
The senior wide-out said he also expects more time on the field to translate into more consistent catches. As the third receiver last year he was in and out of plays and with two highly productive players in front of him he didn't see a ton of targets from game to game.
"Now it's more of a rhythm," Graham said. "You get consistency – a catch here a catch there. I used to get three or four balls a game. You come in, you come out. You're cold. It just depends."
All of the extra work is in hopes that Graham can become the go-to receiver for quarterback Mike Glennon. He wants to be reliable enough to be the guy Glennon looks to when the Pack has to make a play in a pressure situation.
"I want to be that guy," Graham said. "Every kid dreams – you watch NFL games and you want to be that person who makes big plays for your team. But you never want to be that guy to disappoint your team."