Many scouts thought Brandon Graham would be a household name by the end of last season.
Instead, it took a couple trips to Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s doghouse and a breakout performance against Notre Dame for the Detroit native to become a mainstay in Michigan’s starting lineup.
One man definitely now knows Graham’s name – Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Graham met Clausen time and time again last weekend to the tune of 3.5 sacks in Saturday’s 38-0 win over the Irish.
“He certainly didn’t play to his capabilities in the first two games – I think today he did,” Carr said following Saturday’s game. “I think he’s a guy with tremendous upside, and I think he . learned a lot of things in those first two weeks, and I’m just hoping he can continue to play like he did today.”
That’s a lot of praise coming from Carr, who uncharacteristically called out Graham less than three weeks ago.
“Brandon needs to get focused and do the things that he’s capable of doing,” Carr said following Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State.
The public chastising Graham took after this season’s first game was a reminder to Graham of what it’s like to be on your coach’s bad side.
Graham entered camp an unrecognizable 295 pounds as a freshman. Not only was he instantly out of the running to make an impact at linebacker – the position he was originally recruited to play – but the five-star high school recruit’s weight meant he would have trouble even finding the field as a freshman.
“I didn’t work out while I was at home,” Graham admitted last month at Michigan Media Day. “I thought I was going to stay the same size as long as I just played around and played basketball or whatever. But it didn’t happen like that – I ended up getting too big.”
Graham fell behind and jockeyed between positions. Though his raw talent was too much to ignore, making a redshirt out of the question, Graham rarely saw playing time. When he did get in, it was generally for mop-up duty.
After his forgettable freshman season, Graham knew he had to shape up – both figuratively and literally.
“I’ve known Brandon since he was little,” said linebacker and high school teammate John Thompson. “I had to tell Brandon, ‘You got all this hype now. It’s your turn to shine. You didn’t prove what you needed to do. You better step your game up.’ “
Over the summer, Graham lost 30 pounds and entered his second camp at a much more manageable 262 pounds. With his weight down and his speed up, Graham could finally look forward to showcasing his playmaking ability.
Now Graham hopes to turn the previous season’s disappointment into a positive and use it as a learning experience.
“I came in (as a freshman) trying to learn as much as I could,” Graham said last month. “(Carr) said once you learn everything, you’ll have a big advantage over everybody.”
With Graham hungry to make an impact, what position does he want to play?
The linebacker spot at which he was recruited?
The defensive tackle spot where he saw most of his action last season?
Or the defensive end spot where he’s played this season?
“It doesn’t matter where they put me, because I’m going to get it done wherever I am,” the sophomore said in August. “If they put me at corner, I’m going to try and be the best corner. I’m just trying to be the best and bring everybody with me.”