Learning curve?

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With a critical spring practice looming, running backs coach Jay Graham is getting three months to learn a scheme that Tennessee's other offensive assistants already know intimately.

Three months, he says, is way more than enough.

"I was a journeyman in the NFL, so I had to learn a lot of different offenses real fast," he said. "Having three months (till spring practice) or six months (till preseason camp) to learn an offense is easy."

Because he spent time with several pro franchises, Graham sometimes signed with a team on Monday and had to be comfortable enough to play in its offensive system by Sunday.

"Exactly," he said with a laugh. "That's how it was back when I played. It's easy (learning on the fly)."

Having to master an assortment of offenses during his career as a pro running back is a real benefit to him now that Graham is a running backs coach.

"I think so," he said. "It's helped me. Everybody does something similar, so you kind of can attach it to what you've learned before."

Joining the Vol staff one year ago after three seasons at South Carolina, Graham spent 2012 getting familiar with Derek Dooley's offense, only to see Dooley fired at season's end. Now Graham must assimilate a Butch Jones attack that all of the other offensive aides already have studied for at least two years each.

"It's not an adjustment for me," Graham said. "I've been doing this for a long time."

Jones' no-huddle offense is built around a remarkably fast pace. That would pose a problem for Graham if the Vols hadn't played an uptempo attack of their own in 2012. He already has adjusted to fast-break football.

Graham never had any doubts about wanting to stay on at Tennessee.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"It helps me as a coach, and I think it's going to help the players, too, because they're used to it," he said. "That's the biggest thing — the sense of urgency you have to have to be in a fast-paced offense. That's the first thing you have to learn and it's the hardest thing to learn. We've gone through that, and now the guys know what to expect. I think that's going to help us."

Further offsetting the fact Graham is the only offensive assistant who doesn't know the new scheme is the fact he is the only assistant on either side of the ball who knows the players. This is a real plus.

"Yeah, I have a lot more guys coming by my office, so it's been good ... just to spend time," Graham said. "They smile when they see me because I'm somebody that they've seen before."

Having earned a reputation as both a superior position coach and a superior recruiter, Graham could have taken numerous jobs throughout college football. Instead, he chose to stick with a Tennessee program whose past five seasons have produced records of 5-7, 7-6, 6-7, 5-7, 5-7.

Asked if he ever considered leaving The Hill, Graham shook his head.

"No," he said. "I knew I wanted to be here. It's very important to finish what I started with this group of guys. I'm just grateful for having this opportunity."

If there were any doubts about sticking with the Big Orange, Graham's first meeting with the new head coach alleviated them. It went very, very well.

"I think he's personable," Graham said of Jones. "People like spending time with him. You walk away saying, 'I really like this guy.' That's how I felt when I met him. It's been good to be around him and see how he does things — what he likes, what he doesn't like. It's been good to spend as much time with him as I did in the beginning."

Graham did some quality coaching in 2012. He helped junior Rajion Neal (708 yards, 4.5 per carry) stop fumbling and helped sophomore Marlin Lane (658 yards, 5.5 per carry) stopping running tentatively. Unless Graham can lure an elite recruit to Knoxville, they project to be the 1-2 tailback punch again in 2013. Their position coach is expecting continued progress in the months ahead.

"I think they finished the season better than they started, so we've got to continue to build on what we finished with," Graham said of Neal and Lane. "That's the most important thing. Now they know me, they understand what I expect.

"We spent the whole spring working on what they can expect from me. Now we can work on other things, and I think that's going to help us."

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