RENTON, Wash. -- Triston Wade is an undrafted rookie free agent; a 5'11", 185-pound free safety out of Texas-San Antonio who's trying to make the Seattle Seahawks' roster. And it's safe to say he's probably going to have nightmares about covering teammate Jimmy Graham as part of Seattle's second team during red-zone drills at the team's minicamp practice today.
Graham, the former Saints tight end acquired at the start of the 2015 league year in a blockbuster trade, spent his first week as part of the practice roster, and spent a bit of time on Tuesday face-to-face with the Seattle media for the first time. Media availability started last week, but both Graham and quarterback Russell Wilson were in Miami, attending the funeral of Tamara Meyerson, Graham's mentor, manager and adopted mother. With both men back in the fold, Seattle's practice tempo kicked up a couple notches, and though the drills were non-contact in nature, Graham wasted little time showing why the Seahawks gave up their 2015 first-round pick and starting center Max Unger to get their new, highly productive passing game weapon.
Graham scored five touchdowns in red zone drills, more than one while covered by the unfortunate Mr. Wade. He spiked the ball all five times, as if to make a statement about what he'll bring to his new team. And while Seattle's defensive players, led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor, barked incessantly at Graham after every display, it was easy to tell that he'd been accepted, and that nobody in the organization can wait to see how Graham will posterize the Seahawks' opponents this year.
"It's really cool," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after practice of Graham's addition. "We missed him a couple days when he had to go down south for a little bit but it's good to see him out here. You can see him show up in the ways that we're hoping that he's going to be able to do that. It's really cool. The sky's the limit for us right now... His size is tremendous. Obviously with how tall he is already he's got a great catch radius. He can leap up and catch the ball. He's flexible enough to ... if you throw back-shoulder throws he can get back there and get those kinds of throws as well. We're excited to kinda just keep playing with it and see what we have."
The 6'6", 270-pound Graham presents matchup nightmares just about anywhere he lines up, and while reporting specific routes and formations violated the protocol of practice coverage, you can assume that most anything you'd imagine might be covered. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider didn't just give up a huge amount of capital for Graham because he's a tremendous player; it's really about the specific scheme fits, and how Graham can blow Seattle's generally conservative passing game wide open.
“He’s an explosive player," Wilson said. "When you have the receivers that we have, the good receivers that we have and you add Jimmy and the other tight ends as well, and then you have the running backs, it’s kind of hard to figure out where to go. It’s going to be exciting to see what we can do. I’m looking forward to it. A lot of work. The timing is great. I’ll say that. The timing is right where we want it to be with all the guys honestly. We’re just growing. A lot of it has been the off-season work all together and trying to build what we’re trying to do here.”
The timing was surprisingly together, given the relative lack of time Wilson and Graham have had in an official practice environment. Wilson has said for years that he patterns his game after Drew Brees, and I asked him how much that's made a difference—that when he turns on Saints tape and analyzes how he can work with Graham, he also sees the ideal version of himself.
“We have a very similar offense," Wilson said. "They throw the ball more, obviously, their offense is a little bit different, but in terms of the play schemes and all that, it’s very, very similar. I’ve watched Drew for—I have tons of respect for him, I’ve watched him since I was in high school and college, and really studied him. I was fortunate enough to see a lot of Jimmy because of that, and I have a lot of respect for the game that Jimmy has. His timing in just so on point, he’s very, very quick, and he understands the game, and so throwing to him is easy. We have other receivers and other tight ends that are very similar to that too as well, it helps. He’s a superstar, he’s going to be one for a long time, and my goal is to help him continue to grow. He looked great today, as you guys saw, and that’s how he looks every day, so it’s a spectacular thing.”
Graham was just as happy with his new quarterback, both on and off the field—you could tell that Wilson's desire to stand up with him at the funeral meant a great deal.
"It's been incredible—it really has. Clearly, I've watched him from afar as a player and seen his growth throughout the years, but to walk in the building and see his character and to really experience who he is as a man, has been awesome. Last week, what he did not only meant a lot to myself, but my extended family. To know that he and the entire Seahawks [organization] was behind myself and my family."
So, it's all good feelings on all sides for now. Graham isn't even concerned about the reduced number of targets he'll probably get in Seattle's offense. In 2014, Graham finished third in the league with 121 targets, tied with Carolina's Greg Olsen and behind only Chicago's Martellus Bennett and New England's Rob Gronkowski. But Brees led the league with 659 passing attempts, while Wilson finished 19th with 452. And as much as Graham will add to that, Carroll has always preached the importance of a balanced attack -- which means that Graham will not only have to accept fewer opportunities to be productive. He'll also have to learn to block consistently, not something that was required of him in New Orleans.
"I know I'm probably not going to get targeted 130 times," he said. "But that's not my concern; I just want to win games. And I know there will be times, big moments in a game where I'm going to have to go out there and make a play. That's what I'm focusing on -- making sure that when the ball comes my way, I'm ready to take hold of every opportunity, and to not let any of these opportunities pass me by."
As for the blocking? Graham seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to that subject.
“Personally, I’m excited to block. When you go in the game and you’re guarded by corners and safeties for most of your career and you keep getting doubled, that’s never a good thing. I know that’s just going to help this offense out. It’ll help give looks to where guys can’t stack the box with 10 guys. So for me, it’s all positive. I can’t wait. That’s what I’ve been focusing on since I got here. The routes and the passing offense, that obviously comes natural. So for me, it's about focusing on what they’re trying to do here, which is the running game. It’s the staple of this offense and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
And when one diminutive reporter asked Graham how he would evaluate his blocking, Graham offered to present a display.
“I could show you. Listen, man, I’m 270 pounds. I can block anybody I want to. It’s all about 'want-to.' We’ll see on Sundays.”
We'll see a lot about what Jimmy Graham brings to the Seahawks on autumn Sundays, and the initial impressions are all good.