On top of everything else Jimmy Graham appears to be — an instant upgrade to the Seattle Seahawks’ passing game, the NFL’s most accomplished tight end the past two seasons, a business degree holder with a double major and a licensed pilot — Seattle’s newest star is a multitasker.
And a quick learner.
During a two-day span of flying his private plane to the gulf coast of Florida, having his career uprooted from the only team he has known as a professional (New Orleans), having someone else fly him to the opposite corner of the country (Seattle), passing a physical, meeting his new coach, general manager and the Seahawks’ staff, seeing his new city and then flying all the way back to Florida, he somehow has already nailed why he’s a Seahawk. And why Seattle traded its two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and its first-round draft pick for him:
To loosen up the stuffed-at-the-line schemes defenses use to combat the running of Marshawn Lynch and jam the Seahawks’ wide receivers.
Graham expects to change the way teams defend the Seahawks’ entire offense.
“I’ve been watching some film and it seems like a lot of teams play a lot of cover zero (both safeties crowding the line of scrimmage leaving zero in the middle of the field) against them because of Marshawn Lynch and because the read-option is so good,” Graham said of Lynch’s combination runs with quarterback Russell Wilson. “Marshawn, you have to put guys in the box. You have to bring safeties down. And so when you’re playing cover zero, there’s a lot of one-on-one, there’s a lot of opportunities down the field, there’s a lot of opportunities in that middle section where you’ll have guys on these one-on-one matchups.
“I think eventually teams won’t be able to do that. You’re not going to be able to go cover zero just to stop the run. I think I can help open that up.”
Graham also hit on a corollary reason he’s now a $40 million Seahawk, a reason coach Pete Carroll mentioned Tuesday: specifically to catch balls inside the opponents’ 20- and 10-yard lines. Seattle was 21st in the NFL in touchdown percentage from inside the red zone (51.7 percent) and 29th in TDs on goal-to-go plays last season.
The towering former four-year basketball player at the University of Miami can out-leap and box-out smaller defenders near the goal line. The idea is that all those 30-yard field goals by Steven Hauschka last season will become double the points on actual Wilson-throws-the-ball-into-the-end-zone touchdowns.
“In the red zone, that’s something I’ve always been good at. I’m 6-7, 260 pounds, and most of those are like a rebound for me,” said Graham, who became one of eight players in Miami hoops history with 100 career blocked shots. “So I’m looking to fit in anywhere they need me.”
THOMAS WILL BE READY
Coach Pete Carroll said on Seattle’s KJR radio Friday that All-Pro safety Earl Thomas “absolutely” will be ready for the start of the regular season on the second weekend of September. Thomas had surgery last month to repair a torn labrum in the left shoulder he dislocated during the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18. He played through it in that game and Super Bowl 49 on Feb. 1.
The coach said nickel back Jeremy Lane might not be ready for the start of the regular season. Lane had surgery to repair a shattered left wrist and torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He got both those injuries at the end of his return of an end zone interception of Tom Brady during the first quarter of the Super Bowl.
Cornerback Tharold Simon is likely to be ready for the regular season. He recently had shoulder surgery, from an injury he played through during the postseason.
SEEKING A NEW CENTER
Oakland free agent center-guard Stefen Wisniewski visited the Seahawks on Thursday but has yet to sign with anyone.
“That’s a potential,” Carroll said. “We’ll see where it goes”
Wisniewski, who turns 26 next week, is a candidate to replace Unger. He played guard at Penn State and in his rookie season of 2011 with Oakland, so he could also replace James Carpenter, who left last week on a free agent deal with the New York Jets.
Carroll said in the wake of Unger’s departure the offensive line will obviously be “a big focal point” for preseason competition. He said again Friday, as he did immediately after the trade Tuesday, that he and his staff like Seattle’s incumbent linemen, including Patrick Lewis — who at one point last season was the fourth-string center — and that if the Seahawks didn’t feel that way with the blockers they already have they wouldn’t have traded Unger. The coach added the Seahawks see next month’s draft as “very good” for offensive linemen.
Carroll said the Seahawks want to bring back unrestricted free agent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson as Wilson’s backup, and the team is negotiating now for that to happen. … Asked who might be the punt returner now that free agent Bryan Walters signed with Jacksonville on Friday, Carroll mentioned practice squad quarterback B.J. Daniels is an option for that and for kickoff returns. It’s obvious — by that comment and by the Seahawks promoting Daniels to the active roster in the most recent playoffs — the coaches want to reward Daniels for what they’ve said was an outstanding season of practicing in 2014.