Michigan DE Brandon Graham: ‘I want to be feared’

Projected to be a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, defensive end Brandon Graham is coming off a productive career at Michigan, culminating with defensive MVP honors at the Senior Bowl. Graham, working out at the university’s facilities in Ann Arbor, Mich., in preparation for today’s pro day, talked to Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer about being highly coveted since high school, the challenges that came with the Wolverines’ coaching change and what kind of player he wants to known as.
 

Brandon Graham: "You can win a lot of battles just with your handwork."
Brandon Graham: “You can win a lot of battles just with your handwork.”

Vinnie Iyer: Is it easier going through the draft process because you went through something similar as a top national recruit?

Brandon Graham: It helps, because coming out for the draft isn’t totally different. I’ve been in the spotlight before, and I’ve learned to handle it. There is nothing I wasn’t ready for.
 
VI: Was it tough to live up to the expectations coming out of high school?
BG: I was fortunate, as it was pretty natural. Going to one of the biggest schools, there were some great players to lean on. I learned a lot from LaMarr Woodley, and quickly I knew what kind of player I wanted to be.
 
VI: What was it like to undergo a coaching change halfway through your college career?
BG: The key was, as players, we never quite on each other, even though it was tough to see coach (Lloyd) Carr go. It was the same approach for me — I took in all the coaching and worked to fit the system, interested in coach (Rich) Rodriguez and what he brought to the table. I’m the type of guy where I accept change and what good can come of it.
 
VI: What was the biggest adjustment?
BG: The biggest change was in dropping my weight. Playing rush end in the new defense, the tempo was faster. As I got comfortable with a lighter frame, everything was a lot easier. I was about 285 pounds as a sophomore, got down to about 260. It’s allowed me to play a lot faster.
 
VI: As a pass rusher, what are your greatest assets?
BG: My hands are my biggest assets. They are what allow me to move the tackle or other blocker out of the way. My footwork and speed are good, but you can win a lot of battles just with your handwork. I would say my favorite pass-rush move is the double-hand swipe. Once you get inside a tackle and get your hands past his chest, it’s over.
 
VI: Would you be comfortable shifting to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme?
BG: I feel comfortable dropping back in coverage. It’s something I’m used to doing in the schemes I’ve played in.
 
VI: What’s the biggest surprise of the pre-draft process?
BG: Just about how intense those interviews with coaches and team officials can be. You really need to know your best stuff, and you have to know how to talk to best present yourself.
 
VI: How big of a boost was it performing so well during Senior Bowl week?
BG: It took a lot of pressure off me, for sure, having that kind of game, making plays to help me stand out. I got some good coaching there in practice and got me in the right mode for my workouts since.
 
VI: What will be your biggest challenge in the NFL?
BG: It’s really all about learning the playbook. You want to stay ahead of the game, not fall behind as a rookie. You can’t afford to waste any time.
 
VI: What NFL player did you idolize growing up?
BG: It wasn’t a defensive end but a linebacker — Ray Lewis. I would like to be just like him on the football field. I want to be feared, where I put pressure on the linemen and make them a little intimidated to block me.
 
VI: Away from the game, what sort of things do you enjoy?
BG: Right now, enjoy walking on campus. I like playing video games, Madden or NBA, and watching television — nothing serious. I call it my "me" time because I get so little of it. I try to keep it laid back, spend a lot of time with my family, and I appreciate all the time I get.
 
VI: What will you do with your first big NFL paycheck?
BG: I would like to get a nice condo for Mom so she can live near me, wherever I play. I’m close to her, and that would give her a chance to keep seeing me play. We’ve been in Michigan all the time, so I wouldn’t mind somewhere different.
 

VI: When finished playing football, what do you hope others say about your career?

BG: That coaches and players could trust and believe in me, that I was playing for everybody else. I want to be known as the ultimate team player, that no matter how many plays I was making, that I always did what I could to help us win the game.
 
This story appears in April 8’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
Projected to be a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, defensive end Brandon Graham is coming off a productive career at Michigan, culminating with defensive MVP honors at the Senior Bowl. Graham, working out at the university’s facilities in Ann Arbor, Mich., in preparation for today’s pro day, talked to Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer about being highly coveted since high school, the challenges that came with the Wolverines’ coaching change and what kind of player he wants to known as.
 

Brandon Graham: "You can win a lot of battles just with your handwork."
Brandon Graham: “You can win a lot of battles just with your handwork.”

Vinnie Iyer: Is it easier going through the draft process because you went through something similar as a top national recruit?

Brandon Graham: It helps, because coming out for the draft isn’t totally different. I’ve been in the spotlight before, and I’ve learned to handle it. There is nothing I wasn’t ready for.
 
VI: Was it tough to live up to the expectations coming out of high school?
BG: I was fortunate, as it was pretty natural. Going to one of the biggest schools, there were some great players to lean on. I learned a lot from LaMarr Woodley, and quickly I knew what kind of player I wanted to be.
 
VI: What was it like to undergo a coaching change halfway through your college career?
BG: The key was, as players, we never quite on each other, even though it was tough to see coach (Lloyd) Carr go. It was the same approach for me — I took in all the coaching and worked to fit the system, interested in coach (Rich) Rodriguez and what he brought to the table. I’m the type of guy where I accept change and what good can come of it.
 
VI: What was the biggest adjustment?
BG: The biggest change was in dropping my weight. Playing rush end in the new defense, the tempo was faster. As I got comfortable with a lighter frame, everything was a lot easier. I was about 285 pounds as a sophomore, got down to about 260. It’s allowed me to play a lot faster.
 
VI: As a pass rusher, what are your greatest assets?
BG: My hands are my biggest assets. They are what allow me to move the tackle or other blocker out of the way. My footwork and speed are good, but you can win a lot of battles just with your handwork. I would say my favorite pass-rush move is the double-hand swipe. Once you get inside a tackle and get your hands past his chest, it’s over.
 
VI: Would you be comfortable shifting to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme?
BG: I feel comfortable dropping back in coverage. It’s something I’m used to doing in the schemes I’ve played in.
 
VI: What’s the biggest surprise of the pre-draft process?
BG: Just about how intense those interviews with coaches and team officials can be. You really need to know your best stuff, and you have to know how to talk to best present yourself.
 
VI: How big of a boost was it performing so well during Senior Bowl week?
BG: It took a lot of pressure off me, for sure, having that kind of game, making plays to help me stand out. I got some good coaching there in practice and got me in the right mode for my workouts since.
 
VI: What will be your biggest challenge in the NFL?
BG: It’s really all about learning the playbook. You want to stay ahead of the game, not fall behind as a rookie. You can’t afford to waste any time.
 
VI: What NFL player did you idolize growing up?
BG: It wasn’t a defensive end but a linebacker — Ray Lewis. I would like to be just like him on the football field. I want to be feared, where I put pressure on the linemen and make them a little intimidated to block me.
 
VI: Away from the game, what sort of things do you enjoy?
BG: Right now, enjoy walking on campus. I like playing video games, Madden or NBA, and watching television — nothing serious. I call it my "me" time because I get so little of it. I try to keep it laid back, spend a lot of time with my family, and I appreciate all the time I get.
 
VI: What will you do with your first big NFL paycheck?
BG: I would like to get a nice condo for Mom so she can live near me, wherever I play. I’m close to her, and that would give her a chance to keep seeing me play. We’ve been in Michigan all the time, so I wouldn’t mind somewhere different.
 

VI: When finished playing football, what do you hope others say about your career?

BG: That coaches and players could trust and believe in me, that I was playing for everybody else. I want to be known as the ultimate team player, that no matter how many plays I was making, that I always did what I could to help us win the game.
 
This story appears in April 8’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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