The athletic, 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end will have to build trust with Wilson, but they already seem to be on an accelerated path to becoming an effective tandem.
RENTON — They were only two plays during a voluntary Seahawks practice, but they were startling in their ruthlessness.
The first: Quarterback Russell Wilson fired a hard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham’s back shoulder — a back-shoulder fade. At the release of the ball, Graham was not technically open, but he contorted his body, turned to find the ball and shielded the cornerback for a touchdown.
The second: Wilson floated an arcing pass to Graham in the corner of the end zone, and again he wasn’t technically open. But Graham, who is 6 feet 7, jumped higher than the defensive back and plucked the ball midair.
Have you ever tried to catch a pass or grab a rebound against someone bigger than you? The ball is there, you can see it, maybe even think it’s yours, and then all of the sudden basic anatomy comes into play. The effect is demoralizing.
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Of all the special capabilities Graham presents for the Seahawks, perhaps the best one is his ability in the red zone. Put more bluntly, Graham catches passes that smaller, less-athletic players have no business catching in the end zone.
The Seahawks ranked 20th in the NFL last year in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just 51 percent of their red-zone trips.
“That may be one of the biggest things, just the size we have down there when things start to get tight,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
The most startling thing about watching Graham on Tuesday in his first open practice with the Seahawks was how he so effortlessly caught passes over and around defenders, mostly backups. It is the best known of his skills, and yet until you see it in person, up close, it can be hard to understand just how big he is at 6-7, 270 pounds.
“You can have him covered perfectly,” former Saints tight end David Thomas said, “but you can’t cover as high as he can jump.”
But those tight-coverage throws require a deep trust between Graham and his quarterback. He had that with the Saints’ Drew Brees. He will have to reach that understanding with Wilson, who has never had a receiver quite like Graham.
The Saints considered Graham open if he faced single coverage. Brees once said he always felt there was a place where he could throw a pass and only Graham could get it.
“Throwing to him is easy,” Wilson said.
Graham is the rare receiver who is open even when he isn’t open. He has precise body control, and he knows how to use his size and positioning to shield defenders. All 10 of his touchdown catches last year were in the red zone.
“That stuff takes time,” Graham said, “but honestly me and Russ have been on kind of this accelerated learning curve. He just gets it up and gives you an opportunity to be great. We’ll be keep working on that, and we’ll be just fine come the season, because that’s a big thing. That’s all about the connection, that’s all about knowing what each other is going to do and what each other likes.”
Graham won’t catch as many passes in Seattle, and he understands that. But he gives the Seahawks a new dimension near the end zone, where options are limited and where a jump-ball specialist is so valuable.
“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,” Graham said. “That’s what I’m focusing on.”