When Larson Graham played for the Duquesne University football team, a typical home game drew around 2,000 fans.
The Dukes’ home turf is Arthur J. Rooney Field which is located atop the Bluff on the university campus.
Now a Pittsburgh Steeler, Graham will step onto a much larger stage in Lincoln Financial Field when the Steelers hit the road against the Philadelphia Eagles in Thursday’s preseason opener.
“It’s going to be really cool—it’s their first game back since the Super Bowl,” Graham said.
“It’s definitely different than playing on the Bluff in front of 2,000…but at the end of the day a football field is a football field.”
Graham, who earned second team All-Northeast Conference honors three years in a row at Duquesne, went undrafted after his senior season.
He was signed by the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 and took part in their preseason camp. After appearing in four preseason games, Graham was cut from the Falcons prior to the regular season.
Now, the former-Duquesne standout tackle is getting a second shot at making an NFL roster after the Steelers signed him back in April.
“It’s definitely been a grind, but I think the first week(s) went pretty well,” Graham said.
Despite his background as a tackle, Graham has alternated reps between left/right guard and center during training camp, and that’s where he expects to lineup on Thursday for his first preseason game as a Steeler.
“I’m expecting to play probably both guards, maybe some center. I’m just excited to get out there and hit somebody else,” he said.
The Steelers offensive line took a hit when veteran guard Ramon Foster suffered a knee injury during earlier during camp.
“Unfortunately, with Ramon going down our lineups kind of jumbled around so it will be guys moving around all over the place,” Graham said.
“We don’t really have any set lines at all, so I’m hoping to get as many reps as I can.”
Most recently, Graham primarily has been taking reps at center with the third team, as well as cameos at both guard positions.
“I feel a lot more comfortable at center than I was in the past couple of weeks…. I’m pretty comfortable with the playbook, comfortable with the guys around me.”
Graham appears to be third in line at center behind Maurkice Pouncey and B.J. Finney. However, the Steelers listed him at third-team left tackle behind Alejandro Villanueva and Chukwuma Okorafor when they released their first depth chart of the 2018 season on Saturday.
It comes as a bit of a surprise that the Steelers listed Graham as tackle given that he’s taken most of his reps at camp as a guard or center.
“Having not played (center) since high school—I was a tackle at college the whole time, so just picking Pouncey’s brain and other guys who played a little, (Finney), and some of the other younger guys just talking about things that have worked for them and how they’ve had success in the past,” Graham said of his adjusting to center.
Graham noted that the communication of the offensive line has made it easier for him to transition to a less familiar position.
Coming from a smaller school, Graham said that the adjustment to the NFL style of play can be tough at times, especially since he didn’t face many NFL-caliber players in college.
“I love Duquesne but transitioning to the NFL the guys are a little bit bigger, a little bit faster,” Graham said. “Everyone is smarter, but the transition really wasn’t as difficult as I initially expected.”
Graham went through his first NFL camp last season with the Falcons. Despite not making the final roster, he said that the experience helped him make the transition from college to pro.
“It’s nice just to get the first camp out of the way. You get used to an NFL team, an NFL playbook and how things kind of go,” Graham said.
“This camp has been a lot more comfortable in that sense, especially having OTAs with the Steelers getting the playbook down.”
As far as what it will take for him to make the Steelers 53-man roster, Graham said he is focusing on the “little things” that he can improve.
“In the run game I think I can be a little better in my balance. In the pass game I need to do a better job sitting down on bull rushes,” he said.
“I try to work on one little thing in the run game, one little thing in the pass game and then every day work on your communication as much as you can.”
As for this training camp, Graham has adjusted just fine to life at Saint Vincent College.
“It’s a lot like home, a lot like Pittsburgh,” Graham said. “It’s always great having a bunch of fans come out every day. It makes it a little more fun.”