Brandon Graham only started playing linebacker a week prior to the start of
his junior season. Because of that, he is still a work in progress when it comes
to the nuances of patrolling the middle. One thing that he has already established,
though, is that he is an outstanding athlete. At 6-2, 250 pounds he can burn
up a 40-yard distance in the 4.5 second range, and he has an appetite for contact.
The combination of those traits impressed Graham’s position coach Greg
Lusardi enough in practice this week for him to place the Detroit Crockett standout
in the starting lineup.
“Like the whole group of linebackers that I’m fortunate to coach,
Brandon has great physical attributes,” Lusardi said. “He has good
size, speed, agility. I project him to play the MIKE (middle linebacker) or
the SAM (strong side linebacker) positions at the next level. He has been a
great pleasure to work with. He has a great attitude, is a great character person,
and he is really responsive to coaching.”
When assessing Graham’s abilities, Lusardi quickly noticed the youngster’s
penchant for being a force against opposing rushing attacks. “I think
his strength is as a run defender,” said the Morris (NJ) Catholic high
coach. “He has good pad level, good feet, and pretty good hips. I think
he is probably going to end up playing inside at the next level.”
At this point in time, Graham’s skill as a run-stopper is greater that
as a pass defender. However, his temporary coach believes he could eventually
be extremely effective at both. “Like most young linebackers, Brandon
needs to work on his pass coverage,” Lusardi said. “They are brought
up in the lower levels of football to stop the run. Passing attacks aren’t
as intricate and complex. I think improving in that area is going to be his
challenge at the next level. He should be fine though. He has all of the tools
to be an outstanding all-around linebacker. He just needs a little more experience.”
Graham has been gaining in that area all week thanks to the crash course in
defending both aspects of the offense. That means he frequently locked horns
with future teammate Justin Boren, and the Pickerington Ohio product has been
awfully impressive in his own right.
“Justin is a quality young man,” said East offensive coordinator
Matt Chinchar. “He is a very skilled player and is a very good run blocker.
Very strong and very physical. He also understands blocking schemes. He asks
a lot of questions and is always trying to learn. He is just an outstanding
prospect for Michigan. He has good knowledge of the game and is very coachable.”
On the other hand, like Coach Lusardi, Coach Chinchar has identified the area
in the young man’s game that needs the most improvement.
“Justin does a pretty good job in pass protection, but I think that’s
what he needs to work more on,” the Cleveland Glenville assistant said.
“I think he can get a little quicker. He told me Michigan asked him to
drop a little weight.”
In the meantime, Boren will get plenty of work on keeping pass rushers out
of the backfield in this weekend’s game. While it is clear the East will
run the ball its fair share of times, they will definitely be putting it in
the air a great deal as well.
“Percy Harvin has really impressed me,” Chinchar said of the Florida
wide receiver commitment. “He is very fast and very explosive. We’re
going to give him the football.”