How comfortable is Jimmy Graham already, just four training camp practices into being a Seattle Seahawk?
He loves living here, playing here — even flying here. Seattle’s new, star tight end acquired in a March trade with New Orleans is a licensed pilot. The native of North Carolina who played basketball and football for the University of Miami just learned to land a seaplane, a de Havilland Beaver.
“The flying has been amazing. I’ve been to the San Juan Islands, the Hood Canal, all the good stuff, the Olympic Mountains. Really, everywhere you can possibly go,” Graham said. “It’s been a good time in the Beaver, and it has been great with John Nordstrom (a friend of the Seahawks whose family was key to bringing the Seahawks to Seattle and into the NFL well before the team’s inaugural season in 1976).”
Now that’s quintessential Northwest.
Graham already calls his quarterback “Russ.” He and Russell Wilson have a bond strengthened perhaps forever by Wilson flying across the country to Florida attend the funeral in May for a mentor and close friend of Graham’s, Tammy Meyerson. Wilson missed a Seahawks’ minicamp to do that.
“That was a big deal. Not only for me but really for my family and friends,” Graham said. “To see just how real it is here, how immediately everyone is just accepting as a brother, and really kind of (gave me) help when they didn’t even have to.”
And Graham already has a bond so close with fellow tight end Luke Willson, a Seahawks incumbent, that the two are calling themselves the “Bash Brothers.”
Never mind that Graham has no idea who sports’ original “Bash Brothers” were. Graham had never heard of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, baseball’s bashing duo on the 1980s Oakland Athletics.
“I was born in the 1980s,” the 28-year-old tight end reminded, with a laugh.
Yes, it’s smiles and warmth all over for the newest weapon in the Seahawks’ offense. And the opener at St. Louis is still 51/2 weeks away.
“It feels incredible,” Graham said following his touchdown catch down the middle of the field Monday, when he plucked the ball over the head of overmatched, undrafted linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who at 6 feet is 7 inches shorter than the former college basketball power forward. “To be here, to be a part of something special like this, and to work on this connection with Russ, and to build this bond with my tight ends, it’s been truly amazing so far.”
Amazing is the potential Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense senses with Graham on board.
“What an exciting addition for a club. And everyone can feel it,” coach Pete Carroll said.
“He and Russell have been together already, they’ve already got a feel for one another. We’re thrilled about it.”
Yes, Marshawn Lynch leads the offense with a power running game. Still, no team threw it fewer times last season than Seattle’s 454 passes. The Seahawks haven’t thrown it much inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, either.
Since Wilson became its quarterback in 2012, Seattle has passed just 54 percent of the time in the “red zone.” That’s 25th-most often in the league in that span.
That’s why Graham is here, why the Seahawks traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and their first-round draft choice to New Orleans in March to get him.
“It’s just another great playmaker. He can stretch the field, catch the ball, big target in the red zone, which will be huge for us,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “That may be one of the biggest things, just the size we have down there when things start to get tight.”
That means near the goal line, where the Seahawks’ offense got tightest last year.
Seattle was 20th in the league in touchdown percentage in the “red zone,” scoring TDs just 31 times in 60 trips (51.7 percent). It was 53.3 percent in 2013.
Ah, but Graham has 38 catches inside the red zone the last three seasons. No fewer than 28 of those (74 percent) have gone for touchdowns.
Graham’s 355 catches and 46 touchdowns overall are the most by a tight end in the league since 2011.
In minicamps and early in training camp Bevell is using Graham much like the Saints did: all over the field. Tight at end, often in multiple-tight-end sets with Willson and Cooper Helfet. In the slot. Out wide. And no one on the league’s top-ranked defense the last two years has been able to stop him from catching just about any ball thrown within 3 yards of his long arms.
It’s the extraordinary stuff that the $40 million contract Seattle inherited for him can buy, and that the Seahawks haven’t had in a tight end.
The only time a tight end has led this team in catches for a season was 2008. John Carlson had 55 that year. That team went 4-12.
Graham hasn’t had fewer than 85 catches in any season since he became a full-time starter in the league in 2011.
How does he expect to be used most?
“I know third and 10, third and 12, that’s when I’m going to make my money and that’s when I’m going to have to be special for this team,” he said.
“I know in the red zone, that’s just what I’ve always done. I mean, I’m bigger than most down there. There’s a lot of matchup problems. And with Marshawn in the backfield when their safeties play too flat I just see a ton of opportunities there.”
No offense to Tony Moeaki — last year’s fill-in tight end signed after former Pro Bowl selection Zach Miller’s multiple ankle surgeries and eventual release this spring — but the Seahawks for the first time have the weapons to employ two- and three-tight-end sets with potentially damaging results for a defense. Not just to run but to throw.
“I think a lot of double- and triple-tight end sets for us are really going to start to come out this year,” Graham said. “Really give defenses a fit, because we are going to be able to run the ball so effectively because of all the tight ends in the game. Also in the pass, play action is going to be amazing.”
Oh, and about that blocking for which Graham often gets knocked: He said part of the reason he didn’t block for New Orleans is because he was often playing while injured, and the Saints told him to simply run pass routes downfield exclusively. So, as he put it, “I just routed up on guys” instead of blocking them.
Is there anything different on how you block with this Seahawks’ run-first offense than with the pass-happy Saints?
“Yeah,” Graham said with a wry smile, “I'm blocking."