March 28, 2013

Insider Report: Running backs comfortable with Graham

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Through a handful of spring practices, Florida State running backs and new position coach Jay Graham[/db are beginning to gel.

[db]Jame Wilder Jr. said that Graham met with each of the running backs after he took the job to get them on a personal level. He also asked for the tailbacks input on running back drills they did and didn't like.

So far Wilder Jr. said he feels that Graham really has been able to push him to get to the next level.

"Love him," Wilder Jr. said. "He's going to push you, make sure he brings out the best in you. He's a coach that's going to work you. He's going to make sure you know everything, mentally, physically, he's a great coach. I love working with him."

Graham, who played running back at Tennessee, spent six seasons in the NFL at the same position. He completed his playing career in 2002 with the Green Bay Packers, then made stops as an assistant at South Carolina, Miami (Ohio), UT-Martin, San Diego and Tennessee before joining FSU in January.

Because he's not that far removed from his playing days, Devonta Freeman said Graham gives him a comfortable feeling on and off the field.

"He's easy to relate to," Freeman said. "We talked and he knows my situations and stuff like that. He's easy to talk to about anything."

The feeling is mutual between Graham and the running backs. So far he's said he has really enjoyed working with Freeman, Wilder Jr., Chad Abram and redshirt freshman Mario Pender.

"They're tough and they give great effort," Graham said. "It's been really a joy being in the meeting room with those guys. It's a close-knit group so I'm just excited about the future with these guys. We've been working really hard in practice, just tie up the little things and continue to improve."

Freeman and Wilder each rushed for over 600 yards last season, but Abram and Pender are the units' unknowns. Pender missed the entire season with a groin injury suffered in fall camp after enrolling early in the spring, while Abram played sparingly at fullback behind Lonnie Pryor.

So far Wilder said both of the inexperienced backs have been impressive.

"Chad, he's doing very well," Wilder said. "Nobody really knows about him, he's a kind of under the radar type of guy, but he's been filling those shoes. He's shaped just like Lonnie, he can everything pretty much that he can so I think that 'll be a big a part that nobody really expected anything out of him, but he's going to have a big future for this team."

Freeman described Pender as the scat-back of the segment, and compared his big-play ability to that of Chris Thompson. Wilder also said that Pender's quickness is what has stood out about the young back this spring.

"Mario he's bringing speed to our backfield," Wilder said. "He's one of the fastest guys on the team. You don't really recognize it, but when you watch film you just see it in slow motion how he's just running past people. It's just crazy and at the same time he's tough. He's a tough guy, he's still young. He's still learning, but he's a great learner."

Pruitt emphasizes turnovers

There are plenty of things that are different about the Seminoles' defense this spring under defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. One of the noticeable differences during Wednesday's open practice was the number of times a defender would sweat and strip the football away.

It didn't matter what the drill was, or what position the defender played, they all were trying to rip out the ball any way they could.

"He really emphasizes turnovers," linebacker Terrence Smith said of Pruitt. "Last year we had a pretty good defense, but we didn't really make that many turnovers as a whole. This year we're just really emphasizing getting the ball with picks and everything. We're keeping track of everything."

FSU ranked second in the country last year in total defense, and was sixth in scoring defense. But the Seminoles forced just 21 turnovers, which tied them for 66th-best in the country.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said the moment Pruitt stepped on campus he told the defense they were good last year, but they had to get more turnovers. He instructed them that throughout practice they were to swat, strip and pick up any loose ball they saw.

"From day one he pointed everything out," Jernigan said. "He said "You guys had a great year last year but weren't causing turnovers'. I believe we were like eight in the ACC, we definitely were behind. He said 'That has to change, we've got to get the ball back.'"

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