Spring Preview: Graham Interview

We talk with Keenan Graham about the big move to outside linebacker, how the offseason workouts are going, and what he thinks of the new defensive coaches...

Q: So how's the offseason going?

A: I'm feeling great. I'm starting to get used to the transition to linebacker. I'm getting out there in the 7 on 7 two times a day all week, so it's good.

Q: Is it a lot more running that you're used to?

A: It definitely is. I've got to get a feel for dropping back into coverage. I've had to do that a couple of times at d-end, you know fire zones and whatnot, but now I just have to get used to doing it more often, flipping my hips and all that good stuff.

Q: Last year, it looked like you were one of the more athletic defensive ends, being able to kind of range all over the field to make tackles. Do you think that's kind of what the coaches saw in you in making the switch?

A: Yeah, I think so. Maybe it was something they saw in the film. I remember in the Illinois game, I was definitely running around quite a bit. I felt like I had a really good game. I wanted to end the season on a good note and whatnot. I always felt like that I could possibly play linebacker, being kind of an undersized d-end. So I was happy about the switch.

Q: Last year, you were behind a couple of guys at defensive end. Were you thinking at all about moving to linebacker at that time?

A: I actually didn't anticipate this at all. I felt like coming off the hip injury, that kind of slowed me down, and as I went through the season, I was patient. When I made my way into the game, I just tried to make plays, in the short amount of plays that I had. As far as moving to linebacker, I didn't even see it as a possibility on the horizon. And then, once I heard that we would possibly be moving to a 3-4, I thought about it, man, "I'm trying to play that outside linebacker spot in the 3-4."

Q: It's gotta be fun, right? You get to play with your hand up sometimes, hand down other times, get to hit the quarterback…

A: The best of both worlds, man. So I was excited. Coach Spanos came up to me one morning and he said, "What do you think about playing linebacker?" And I was like, I have no problem playing linebacker. I don't mind at all. And I was kind of excited. And then once he confirmed it, I went out to the field to practice the footwork and all that. But I'm really excited.

Q: Yeah, I was talking to Coach Ulbrich about it a little bit, and he said he wants his best pass rusher at that spot. Is it nice to still be using your pass rushing skill a fair amount?

A: It's really exciting. I get to pass rush, drop back in coverage a little bit, maybe get a few interceptions. It's awesome. And the best of both worlds, like Coach Ulbrich says, so I'm excited to play it.

Q: Are you and Damien Holmes comparing notes on how to make the switch?

A: Well, actually, I haven't gotten with Damien yet, but I'm sure we will. He's actually playing the right (outside linebacker) and I'm playing the left side. So we're on different sides. But it's new to both of us. It's funny, because when we're out there doing pass rush stuff, me and him kind of the edge in the that, because of all the defensive line stuff. But when we start doing more of the real linebacker stuff, they kind of have the advantage, so it's kind of cool. We're kind of helping them with the d-line aspects, and they're kind of helping us with the linebacker aspects, as far as the drops go.

Q: And I guess everyone is helping Anthony Barr through the adjustment.

A: Oh yeah, definitely. It's definitely new to them. I asked him, "Have you played linebacker before?" And he said. "No." And I was like, really? And he said, "Yeah, I just really wanted to move to linebacker." So I said, "Alright, cool." I mean, he has all the tools to do it. The speed, the athletic ability, he definitely has the tools.

Q: So for you, you've been through the workouts for a couple of months, do they feel different from the workouts under Coach Linn?

A: They feel a lot different. I'm starting to see my body change in ways that I haven't seen before. But you know, that's also due to the fact that I'm playing linebacker now. I don't have to worry too much about my weight. That was always the problem for me, because I had to get up there, because I'm playing d-end. So once they told me I was playing linebacker, I was thinking I could chill at my weight right now, you know, just get lean at 250.

Q: So you're about 250 now?

A: Yeah, I'm about 250, and they said that's perfect. They said if they wanted me to add some more weight, I could, but as far as right now, I'm in that green area as far as weight goes for my position.

Q: What's the range like for that green area? 245 to 260?

A: About that, but I don't know about 260.

Q: I don't know, I saw Damien was listed at 260.

A: That's crazy, because he didn't even look 260. It was surprising to me when I saw him weigh in at 260. It'd be hard for me to get up that high. Then again, I said that back in high school, you know, how am I going to get to 250, and here I am now.

Q: What's the vibe that you get from Coach Alosi? How is he as a coach?

A: He's definitely all business. He's all business. He's like, when you get in the weight room, no messing around. Just handle your business and get out. It's a real professional guy, and I like that. He's a strict dude, which is good. I think we needed that. But I love the workouts we're doing. We're switching it up a lot, doing different things. He said it's because he wants to keep the body guessing. So week in and week out, he surprises us with something new. It's like, man, is he ever going to run out of things to do? But I love it, and it's great having a guy who came from the NFL here working with us.

Q: I've heard from some others that he's also big on not so much maxing out your weight, as honing the proper technique for everything you're doing. Is that kind of the gist?

A: Definitely. He's all about explosion. In the beginning, we did lifting to the metronome on the speaker. So we would go down for a certain amount of seconds, and then we would have to explode up. And we would have to count down to ourselves, 5...4... You know, when you're squatting or whatnot. It was beast, man, but it was good work. He's all about the core, and whatnot, and the workouts are great.

Q: Is that kind of a team wide attitude, that you're feeling stronger?

A: Definitely. I'm actually really excited to see the team speed improve. We've been doing a lot of sled work. A lot of sled work this offseason. It's been a little overwhelming. We've done that sled work all offseason, and then we've tried it without the sleds, and man, I feel faster than ever.

Q: You've also had some fun with mat drills…

A: The mat drills are beast, but you know, it's only going to make us better.

Q: In terms of linebacker coaching, are you dealing more with Coach Ulbrich or Coach Spanos?

A: I'm dealing more with Coach Ulbrich, as far as right now. Coach Ulbrich is awesome, man. I feel like he can still go out there and put the pads on. Especially, being a guy who's, I would say, fresh out of the league, what, 2 or 3 years? It's nice to have a guy who's been in the action and knows what he's talking about because he's played in the league, and so recently. I'm excited that he's our coach, and I'm looking forward to learning a lot from him.

Q: Is that a big thing for the team as a whole, having so much NFL experience on this coaching staff?

A: It's awesome, man, because they know what it takes to get there, and they're going to give us the tools to help us get there. I'm excited to have all these guys here, to help some of us dudes who have aspirations to play at the next level get there.

Q: With Coach Mora, one of his big things early on was talking about culture change, with the over the wall stuff, and all that junk. Have you noticed the coaches starting to instill that new kind of culture?

A: I've definitely noticed a change. He's bringing his philosophy and kind of a tough mentality to this team, and you can kind of feel it taking over the locker room right now. Everyone's starting to buy into it and we're holding each other accountable for all the little things which is the way it should be. I'm excited for all the changes, and I just can't wait to get out there in spring to see how it all looks.

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