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.
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.