Tyrone McGraw Post-Spring Game Q&A

On a flat offensive day, the unmitigated highlight was the breakout running of redshirt freshman Tyrone McGraw. On the biggest stage yet in his Cardinal career, the darting and diminutive tailback was explosive on his carries - including an 85-yard touchdown. McGraw also pulled his hamstring late in that run, which is another aspect of his story he told afterward in our exclusive interview.

You missed the start of the spring with your knee, started to get well, then were injured again and finally came back late this week.  How was it for you this spring going through that yo-yo of practices?

"It's been really difficult.  I was also recruited to run track here, and one of the things I wanted to do here was run track in addition to playing football.  I decided this winter and spring that I wasn't going to run track because I wanted to make a good impression on this new coaching staff after the change occurred.  It's been really difficult for me because I thought I'd be back a little sooner.  It's been difficult in terms of getting my conditioning down and staying healthy, but I feel like now that I have a little down time, I can get back to functioning correctly.  I'll be a lot better and be ready to go for the fall."

Your last chance to show something this spring included a great practice on Thursday and then some big time plays in this Spring Game.  Is that an overall confidence booster for you to take into the off-season?

"Yeah, I feel like I ended the spring on a good note, aside from the hamstring strain I suffered.  I feel I came out here and competed well.  The only thing is that I feel like I need to get into better shape.  I have to work a little harder with that - work to get my conditioning in.  But I'm definitely happy.  I feel like I've improved a lot these past three or four weeks.  I have a lot to learn about football.  I have a lot to learn, but I feel like this coaching staff has invested a lot of time and taught me this system a lot better.  I feel like it will be a good fall upcoming."

Can you elaborate or detail some of the things where you made strides forward this spring in your running game?

"In terms of me as a running back, I feel like it's just understanding football a lot better.  That's helped me the most with this offense.  Coach [Willie] Taggart, my running backs coach, has helped me a lot in recognizing defensive fronts and learning safety rotation.  We've done a lot of work just learning about a lot of things.  Also, I feel like it has been difficult to improve my running game this spring.  A lot of what I've done, I feel like is based on athleticism I already possessed, but I haven't been able to work on my game as much because I haven't been in as much.  We'll have a lot to improve during fall camp.  Aside from that, I'm still happy.  I still have a long way to go, but understanding football is the thing that I have improved the most.  I just started playing football in high school, and I've learned a lot here thus far."

Those plays you broke for big gainers today, including the 85-yard touchdown - how much was predicated on your pure athleticism, or were there things you learned about reading defenses and reacting to them that you were coached up this spring?

"One thing my coach told me on Thursday - Coach Taggart - he was emphasizing to me that on our inside zone plays, you have to make sure you look for the cutback lanes and stuff like that.  That was big today.  That was big because the defensive ends were overpursuing a little bit, and what he told me is what actually helped me out the most.  I feel like my teammates were trying to encourage me a lot.  They knew I didn't have much conditioning coming into this Spring Game.  They were trying to keep me strong and keep me focused.  I feel like all of that played a role in the success we had on offense today."

That's running the ball, but the other half of being a back is to block and be a protector.  There were a lot of sacks today, and I know you guys want to do a better job with that.  How do you feel that your physical development and your understanding of how to block players at this level is coming along?

"That's definitely improved tremendously.  That's one of my goals for the upcoming season.  Pass protection is really important to me.  Obviously I can run the ball somewhat well, and I'm trying to improve that as well.  I have a lot still to do in bettering myself with that part of the game.  But pass protection is something I feel I really need to work on, especially given my size.  But it's much improved since the fall season.  I've gotten a lot stronger from our fall strength program, as well as our winter program with Coach [Shannon] Turley.  I'm doing everything 'technician style', 'Turley-trained'.  I think it's helped me a lot functionally as a player.  I feel like my pass protection has gotten better, but like I said, I still have a lot to learn."

Of those improvements in blocking you have made, how much is physical and how much is technique and instruction?

"I feel like it's a combination of both.  I feel like strength definitely plays a role because I've definitely improved my strength a lot.  But also, Coach has been telling me, 'You have to be smart.'  Given my size, most of the linebackers when they blitz are obviously going to try and bull rush me because I'm a smaller running back.  I have to know it's coming, and I have to be smart.  Cut block sometimes.  Stay up sometimes.  Wash them away and try not to take them on squarely because they'll probably try to run me over.  I just have to be smart about it, and that's something that Coach Taggart has worked with me a lot this spring."

After all the experiences you have gone through this year and this spring, what is your expectation or your hope for what your role is going to be within this offense?

"My goal is definitely to become an integral role within the offense.  I want to help lead this team to victory.  I'm not sure what type of position I'll be in this upcoming fall, but hopefully I'll be getting a lot of playing time not only on special teams but also at the running back position.  That would be my goal.  I just want to come out here and compete to the best of my abilities.  First, I just feel that I need to get conditioned.  I need to get my wind back.  I have to be able to play, have to be able to compete."

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