Quarterback Michael Graham gets a chance to craft a happy ending to an uneven career, as the starter when William and Mary opens at West Virginia.
Graham has started six games and played in 11 over the past two seasons. The fifth-year senior has had good moments and games, but there have been detours and injury and illness and inconsistency as part of what turned into a three-man quarterback revolving door in 2011 and ‘12.
Quarterbacks Raphael Ortiz and Brent Caprio were limited during preseason camp due to the effects of offseason surgeries — Ortiz his throwing shoulder, Caprio a foot. Graham was the only experienced quarterback capable of going full-bore at practice, in live scrimmage situations.
Head coach Jimmye Laycock divided the scrimmage reps evenly for a while among Graham and underclassmen Christian Brumbaugh and Steve Cluley. Graham eventually stood out and separated himself, earning more reps with the No. 1 offense.
“With a new offense,” Graham said, “the more reps you get, the more efficient you’re going to be, the better you’re going to know it – what checks to make and stuff. So it definitely did help.”
New offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers installed a system that doesn’t look radically different than the pro-style scheme Laycock has run his entire career at W&M. But the terminology and play-calling are different, which put all of the Tribe quarterbacks in a position of having to go back to school, regardless of their level of experience.
“I’m very comfortable with the offense,” Graham said. “Me and Coach Rogers are on the same page about a lot of stuff, so I feel really good about what we’re doing.”
Rogers is pleased with Graham’s progress thus far.
“His understanding of the offense is much better,” Rogers said. “He’s getting through his reads and progressions much better, instead of hanging onto one receiver. He’s become a better leader and has demonstrated some poise in the huddle and on the field.”
Graham is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He possesses a good arm and a decent touch on his throws when necessary. Laycock said that his decision making has improved greatly.
“It’s not just being accurate in the throws,” Laycock said. “Obviously, that’s important. But sometimes, the decision not to throw is equally important as throwing on the money.”
Graham said that the clock in his head is better developed. He has embraced the concept of checking down to safe outlets if the first or second option isn’t available.
“The main thing is that our timing with the offense is a lot better,” Graham said. “Coach Rogers has really helped me with getting the ball out on time – knowing where to go and getting the ball there on time. I think that’s really helped our passing game.”
Graham last season completed just 45.7 percent of his passes (58-for-127) for 776 yards and eight touchdowns, with six interceptions. The highlight was a 353-yard, four-touchdown effort at Old Dominion, though he also threw three interceptions in an eventual 41-31 loss.
He had a better year, statistically, in 2011, completing almost 60 percent of his passes (55-for-92) for 787 yards and five touchdowns, with three picks. He started three games and played in two others.
Graham hopes that he gets the chance to develop some continuity with the offense and receivers. A broken finger and subsequent MRSA infection shelved him at the end of the 2011 season. He suffered a preseason injury last year that limited him early in the year. He played the final 2½ games when he was the last healthy, experienced quarterback.
He doesn’t feel jinxed and spends little time thinking about injuries to himself or the other quarterbacks in the past couple of seasons.
“The only thing I can do is go out and do my best every day,” Graham said. “Besides that, you can’t really focus on: What if I get hurt? You can’t think about that because it doesn’t do you any good. It’s just worrying for no reason.”