Graise aims for Amazin' year

JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END Mike Graise is penciled in as Bill Doba's starter on the right side, but the Inglewood scrapper says there's miles (of running) and loads (of weight) to rack up and stack before he can assume he'll be at center stage when the Cougs open the season at Wisconsin on Sept. 1. That's why he's not heading home for the break between now and the summer session starting in mid-June.

Virtually all starters and key walk-ons will be in Pullman by the time the mid-June summer school session begins -- the same start date for the Cougs' voluntary offseason workouts.

So now's the one time all year that players can can get some extended time on the homefront.

But not Mike Graise.

He's doing Pullman 24/7 -- an especially notable feat in light of the fact the Apple Cup has been moved to Nov. 24 this year, so there won't be a break at Thanksgiving for the football team.

Listed on the roster at 6-3, 214 pounds, Graise said he's now up to 225.

"What I really want to work on is getting bigger and stronger," said Graise. "I just want to play the strong side if I need to. Being named the starter after the spring isn't guaranteed or anything. But right now I'm starting, and you can't be starting at 210."

Lance Broadus and Matt Mullennix were expected to be the 2007 starters at defensive end, but injury has clouded the outlook and put Graise on the hot seat.

Mullennix was held out of contact this spring for precautionary reasons to allow his rehabbed knee -- he tore his ACL last August -- to get stronger, and Broadus injured a shoulder toward the end of spring ball that required surgery. Early estimates are for Broadus to return in Week 2 of the season.

"I already knew going into spring ball I was going to have a major role and then Lance got injured," said Graise. "I had already made the decision not to go home, to stay up here and work out all through May and June and get some extra work in."

This was also the first spring Graise himself made it through unscathed, something he said helped along his improvement. Last year he broke the navicular bone in his wrist and the year prior battled a hip flexor.

GRAISE WAS THE designated speed rusher off the edge last season under then-defensive coordinator Robb Akey, although he said it was a role he never felt completely comfortable with. His chances, however, of being an every down player were diminished due to his size.

"I didn't think I was big enough to play strong (side). When I first came in, I was expecting everything to fall into place. Now I'm doing the extra stuff, I feel myself going out of my way to do whatever the coaches ask," said Graise. "I think a lot of the backups are working a lot harder now.

"We're really conditioned, and we can run like no other, but it is tough to be on all those (special) teams and then run right out and play defense," said Graise. "One thing we've talked about as a defense is for the younger guys, we're hoping to get them available for our special teams."

BROADUS LAST SEASON played at around 220 pounds. While not big, he was successful in part because of outstanding technique -- a fact not lost on Graise.

"I'm a lot better at matching up against the run than I have been, mainly because of technique. And there's also my explosion. Coach (Marty) Long came in and he's emphasized that a lot. I notice now every time I get that first step down I beat my man," said Graise.

Graise knew Long from when the coach was at Arizona and recruited Graise coming out of high school.

"He really tries to make sure we learn, and he goes out of his way to make sure we learn it. He'll get down and demonstrate, or he'll let himself be (the target) so we can get our hands right or our footwork right," said Graise.

Under the new coordinator, head man Bill Doba, the Cougs will likely change a few things defensively, although ultimately that will be dictated by the personnel, the learning curve and how the players perform in fall camp. But Graise said there will always remain things to work and improve upon regardless of scheme, such as his pass rushing technique and working on his angles. And his adversaries will be doing their work as well.

THIS SPRING, Graise said the offensive line got better as the session went along, singling out Andy Roof, Kenny Alfred and Dan Rowlands as three of the toughest he went up against on the offensive line.

"Actually, they're all pretty tough, but they don't really have a choice either because they've got Yarno as their coach," said Graise. "They were getting better, I could definitely see that towards the end of the spring."

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