Perhaps introductions aren't necessary. You may already be friends with former Pitt running back Ray Graham.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin does, that's for sure.
In a great feature written by Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell in February of 2013, following the NFL Scouting Combine, Wexell relayed a few tidbits about the past relationship between Graham and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
I dug for this story Wednesday morning because it always stuck with me, for whatever reason.
"Ray, get your nose on your own practice field!" Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would holler, and then in all seriousness Tomlin would add: "You’re not on this team!" Tomlin would turn back to the reporters standing next to him along the Steelers’ sideline and chuckle. "The guys who keep looking over here, who think they belong over here, those are the guys who do belong," Tomlin said. "Shady was the same way. One time I walked in the training room and he was in the whirlpool with Willie Parker. I said, ‘Shady, get outta here.’"
There's something so charming about that, especially when you add it to Graham's production before he tore his ACL midway through a dominant junior season at Pitt. He came back to top the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, his third consecutive with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 3,271 yards, and gained 4,943 yards from scrimmage in his career - both marks stand second only to Tony Dorsett in team history.
A simpler way to describe Graham is the most decorated big school player on the Steelers' practice squad.
So why is he there? Why was he not drafted, even if Tomlin had such a great rapport with him? Cuz he was stealing whirlpool time with Willie Parker?
It's likely his size. Houston appeared to be a great fit for him. An established zone-running team, it's a wonder if Graham wasn't redshirting with the Texans for a season while getting stronger and learning their scheme. Teams try to slip players on and off their roster frequently - the Steelers have signed and released Isaiah Green, only to re-sign him a day or a week later, four times this year. Perhaps that's what Houston was doing.
Maybe the Steelers went after him aggressively as a priority undrafted free agent, but lost out to the Texans. There was a time when all the talk surrounding the Steelers' offense was the implementation of a zone running scheme. While we haven't seen much of the outside zone comparable to what the Texans do, the Steelers have used inside zone with Le'Veon Bell a fair amount.
When the Steelers drafted Bell in the second round of the 2013 Draft, Graham may simply have seen himself having more of a chance of making the Texans roster. That may not necessarily be the case now, however.
After another Pitt product, LaRod Stephens-Howling went down early in the season, the Steelers brought back Jonathan Dwyer, their leading rusher in 2012 who was cut in 2013. Felix Jones was added via trade. Eventually, Isaac Redman became disposable. The Steelers running back depth chart looks far different than it did before the draft.
Maybe that changes heading into 2014, but Graham, at the very least, has some time to show his worth, and perhaps line up a future's contract with the team.
He can probably even use the hot tub, guilt free.
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