Memory, versatility serve Vanderbilt sophomore well

Monday, August 17, 2009 at 10:32pm

One of the first questions Jamie Graham was asked when he sat down in the defensive backs meeting room in the spring was, “Do you remember?”

The versatile Vanderbilt sophomore said he did.

Monday, he showed that memory is a two-way street. Graham, who had been a cornerback throughout preseason drills, played a little bit of wide receiver with the offense in the second of the day’s two workouts.

“It was fun getting out there, putting my foot in the ground and running deep routes and screens,” Graham said. “It felt like last year. I think I messed up on one play, but that comes with learning the (additions) to the offense.”

His ability to play more than one position stirs not-so-distant memories of cornerback D.J. Moore, a second team All-American for the Commodores last season.

Graham was a defensive back during his redshirt year of 2007 but moved to offense as a wide receiver last fall.

The depth at cornerback and the lack of playmakers on offense necessitated the switch. Graham validated it when he finished third on the team with 17 receptions and tied for second with three touchdown catches He also ran 21 times for 119 yards and returned 11 punts.

When Moore passed up his final year of eligibility to turn pro, Graham went back to the defense. Thus far he was worked mostly as a backup to senior Myron Lewis and as one of the top candidates to be nickel cornerback in passing situations.

“Jamie is sort of a natural,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “He remembered a lot (of defense) even in the nickel position. (Monday) he went back to wide receiver and he looked really good doing that. He’s just one of those guys who’s a ball player.”

Johnson added that there was no significance to the timing of Graham’s move to offense. In fact, receivers such as John Cole, Akeem Dunham and Udom Umoh, each of whom missed at least one workout last week due to injury, practiced at full speed Monday.

“It’s just time to get his little package put in there,” Johnson said. “We had it scheduled for this time. It’s nothing that we were reacting to or anything – it was scheduled. The defense had put in most of their stuff, so he wasn’t going miss any installation by being over there.”

The quarterbacks acted as if they missed him. Even as Graham ran routes in his black jersey against defensive backs who wore the same color he stood out enough that several passes came his way during the ‘team’ period.

Not only that, but in Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage he was the primary return man with the first kickoff return unit and one of two deep men with the first punt return unit.

“I think coach Johnson is putting me in all the right positions to help the team,” Graham said. “We’re not thinking individually right now, we’re thinking about what’s best for the team. If I need to get some touches at receiver … I’ll come over and play receiver.

“To get in the mix with the offense and then to be able to do returns … as long as it’s the best way to help the team.”

INJURY UPDATE

Redshirt-freshman defensive tackle Colt Nichter sustained a sprained ankle and foot during Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage.

The extent of his injuries was not as bad as initially feared. Team trainers placed an air cast on Nichter’s lower leg before they removed him from the playing surface at Vanderbilt Stadium.

“Both (the ankle and foot) are sprained and sprained badly,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “His leg got caught up under him pretty good and it was very painful. That’s why we were very cautious in taking him off the field.”

Also:

• Defensive end Broderick Stewart was held out of both Monday workouts because of a blow to the head he received late last week.

• Defensive end Steven Stone did not make it through the Monday evening session after he sustained what appeared to be a foot or toe injury. Johnson had no immediate information.

• Guard Ryan Custer underwent dental surgery to repair the effects of a blow to the mouth late last week.

• Running back Jared Hawkins (hamstring) returned to action but his workload was limited in both practices.

• Defensive back Trey Wilson (toe), running back Jermaine Doster (ankle), safety Jay Fullam (hand), linebacker Michael Garcia (chest) and wide receiver Justin Wheeler (knee) all remained sidelined.

BO KNOWS (or at least this is what he thinks at the moment)

An observation from The City Paper sports writer David Boclair:

Much has been made to this point – and rightfully so – of Vanderbilt’s three freshman running backs.

One other first-year player who has been tough to ignore, however, has been cornerback Eric Samuels. He’s not in competition for a starting spot, but he makes enough plays that he can’t be that far down the depth chart.

At 6-foot, 184 pounds, he’s already big enough that he should be able to contribute on special teams. Plus, he’s fast enough to get down and cover kicks in a hurry … that is, if you think the fact that he qualified for the Florida high school state championships in the 100 and 200 meters means anything.