In 2010, the Houston Texans drafted tight end Garrett Graham of Wisconsin in the 4th round (118th overall) of the NFL draft. The Brick, New Jersey native was a relative unknown to Texans' fans and was considered an H-Back and not a true tight end by NFL draft analysts.
It took some time for Graham to develop for the Texans since 2010, spending the majority of his time on the scout team learning the position buried in the tight end depth chart behind Owen Daniels and former Texans' Joel Dreessen and James Casey. The journey for Graham has been tedious but rewarding for the former Wisconsin Badger.
After a practice during OTAs, we had a chance to talk to Graham and we brought up his first career catch for his NFL career.
Graham smiled and laughed when we talked about his first career catch that came in his first career game on the last regular season game in his second season with the Texans. With 32 games into his career and his first official appearance, Graham caught a 24 yard pass from the arm of Jake Delhomme against the Tennessee Titans.
"It is definitely a trivia answer." Graham commented on his first career catch from Delhomme.
Hard work finally paid off for Graham to experience that moment and it opened the door for the Texans to let veteran tight end Joel Dreessen sign with the Denver Broncos.
The 2012 Season, Big Shoes To Fill
The exit of Dreessen put Graham into the spotlight to fill the void that was left in the Texans offense. Dreessen had a career season and was highly touted for his run blocking skill that helped one of the best running attacks in the NFL. Questions surrounded if Graham could be a run blocker in the offense with Daniels being one of Matt Schaub's favorite targets in the passing game. Graham was expected to be the next blocking tight end of the offense.
Graham talked about learning all three tight end positions for the Texans and how much it helped him:
"It was very important. I was on scout team for a year or two. I was backing up Joel (Dreessen) and James (Casey) and those guys. I was doing the trey in three tight end sets. It has taken some time to get to this point but it has been worth it."
In 2012, he appeared in 15 games for the Texans and started 9 of them. He had 28 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He was eased into the offense but his versatility was put on display when Daniels was split out and Graham was the tight end in the formation.
He played in 708 regular season snaps for the Texans and he was targeted 40 times through the air. Graham was a key piece to the Texans offense and helped ease the change.
Graham was slowed by a concussion that he suffered in week 13 against the Tennessee Titans after a defender went high on him during a catch. That concussion kept him out of a key game against the New England Patriots. He also suffered one during the wild card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals but he was able to get cleared for the Divisional round.
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Graham talked about recovering from the concussions in 2012:
"I'm feeling great, feeling 100%. I'm coming out here and trying to get better everyday."
New Season, Bigger Expectations
Graham showed some flashes of being a solid piece for the Texans and his breakout game was last season against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 11 at Houston. Graham caught 8 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into his 4th season, Graham feels more comfortable in Houston's offense.
"It's been going good. Every year gets much easier. I have been playing both tight end positions just like I did in the past."
During OTAs, Graham looked confident, caught passes with ease and ran crisp routes. Graham split time with the first and second team on the field but took advantage of the extra snaps when Daniels was rested by Head Coach Gary Kubiak. The offense did not skip a beat with Graham in the offense and he was on the same page with Schaub in the passing game.
Graham talked about running with the first team offense:
"It's great. I get to play a little different position and run different routes. Getting used to thinking differently on the field and it has helped me out a bunch on the field."
Putting Himself in Position
OTAs was a good step for Graham and he is in a position to be a key part to a retooled Texans offense. Graham is putting himself in position to be the heir apparent to the tight end position when Daniels' time is up in Houston.
It might have taken Graham four years to get to this point, but he is ready to make his mark for the Texans in 2013. He has put the team first and he is already seeing good things coming out of OTAs:
"OTAs have been going really good and the team is slowly coming together."
It is early, but Graham used the 2012 season to gain the trust of Gary Kubiak in the offense. His role should grow in the offense and become another weapon added to the offense for the upcoming season.