With Lewis off to the NFL, in addition to Henry Hynoski, Chris Burns transferring to UMass, Jason Douglas no longer with the team, the running back position has a whole new look to it personnel-wise. Schematically, it's also much different from what Graham has seen going back to his high school career.
"In high school, I ran what we basically ran with Coach Wannstedt," Graham said. "This is very new to me. This is my first time ever in an offense like this. I like it though. I think good things are going to come out of it." With those good things that Graham refers to, are often some growing pains and other adjustments. Graham knows exactly what those challenges are, and he realizes what he needs to do to get over those things. He knows in the long run—literally—the sooner he can pick these things up, the sooner he can move on to being prepared to have a productive season.
One of those challenges is simply getting down the quarterback/running back exchange out of a zone read. Graham believes the individual sessions they have through the early part of spring practices will eventually correct that. During Thursday's practice, there was a miscommunication between him and quarterback Tino Sunseri off a zone read, which resulted in a fumble recovered by the defense.
"We work on (the exchange) a lot," Graham said. "We have a lot of (group and individual) periods. That's a big thing. (The periods) are the key to our offense. If we can't get the ball, we can't get something going. We do that a lot. I think it's going to work for the best." One other challenge, is just simply understanding the terminology, and the way the plays are called. So far Graham feels he has a grasp on that, but it's still a new way of doing things; something that takes some time adapting to. The offense is called using a set of cards that the players must learn.
"When you look at the cards, you pay attention to the cards, then sometimes you lose focus because you gotta know the play; lineup in this position," Graham said. "It's kind of hard, but the more reps I get, the more in-tune I become with the plays."
Then there's parts of the offense that Graham can already see himself having an impact. For example, last season out of Pitt's pro-style offense, Graham's strength was always getting to that next level. He had long runs of 64 against New Hampshire and another of 77 yards against Florida International. He produced his team-best 136.3 all-purpose yards per game because of his ability to improvise and take off after finding that next level. Now, Graham is in an offense that puts a player like him at his position, to already be at that next level.
"It's definitely a great offense," Graham said. "You get a lot of one-on-ones. This sets you up for a lot of one-on-ones at the next level. That's what I think is the best. I think that's what I'm good at."
One other thing that should help Graham become even more comfortable in this new offense, is the fact that he'll be taking a good majority of the reps throughout the spring. That may change in training camp, but at the same time, it's a lot easier on him not having to share reps with Lewis now, especially in trying to learn a new system. In addition to Graham, Derrick Burns is taking reps, as well as newly added walk-ons Desmond Brown and Randy Morris.
"I take all of the ones as of now until the freshmen come in, then we'll alternate a lot more," Graham added. "Desmond and Randy, they're doing a good job. Derrick Burns, he's doing a real good job; when they get a chance to play too.
"I think it's going to help us out, all. Plus, I would like to take the reps so I could get into the offense, so it becomes second nature in your head. We have to read a lot of cards (that refer to the plays being called). That would be good for me."
There may be some new things in learning and adjusting to this new offense, but the players seem to understand why they're supposed to be doing things a certain way. Part of it is they see the way previous players in Tulsa's system produced when Todd Graham was there. The other part, is simply working it out in practice.
"Like anything, you start from scratch and build your way up," Graham said. "We're working good. The quarterbacks are doing their job. We're all focused and dialed up, so we're ready to do it."