Jimmy Graham show begins in Seattle

RENTON, Wash. -- The crowd watching Seattle Seahawks training camp Saturday along the shore of Lake Washington roared its approval when Jimmy Graham leaped high to snatch a pass from Russell Wilson some 20 yards up the left sideline. This sort of play was precisely what the Seahawks had in mind when they traded a 2015 first-round pick for the Pro Bowl tight end.

Left unsaid, for the most part, was a key area where Seattle expects Graham to develop his game: Blocking. While Graham's former team, New Orleans, ranks first in total receptions and receptions by tight ends since 2012, Seattle ranks 32nd and 31st in those respective categories over the same three-year time period. Seattle has run the ball a league-high 46.9 percent of the time during that span. The Saints were at 34.3 percent, the second-lowest rate.

The running game will remain the Seahawks' top priority, even with Graham.

"That is not going to change," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after practice. "That is something that is part of us. It is at our core. It is our philosophy."

With contract-related stories involving Wilson, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor dominating headlines early in camp, Graham was not immediately available for interviews (he was scheduled to speak Monday). Numbers available through ESPN Stats & Information say a lot about the adjustment awaiting Graham.

Last season, the Saints ran the ball only 26.2 percent of the time on the 744 plays when Graham was on the field, compared to 55.7 percent on the 350 plays when he was not in the game. The difference between those two rates -- 29.5 percentage points -- was the second-largest in the NFL among the 10 tight ends with the highest totals for receiving yardage. Only the San Diego Chargers and Antonio Gates were more predictable from a run-pass differential standpoint among those 10 teams.

"We are going to run the football," Bevell said. "Jimmy is going to be in there. He is more than willing to do it. He is excited to do it."

Graham figures to be at his most valuable as a receiving target in the red zone, where Seattle ranked 20th last season with a 51.7 percent touchdown rate.

"What an exciting addition for a club and everyone can feel it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He and Russell have been together already, they’ve already got a feel for one another and we’re thrilled about it."

A 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame makes Graham a receiver quarterbacks have an easier time finding as they scan the field. That was helpful for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose height is listed at 6 feet. It could be similarly helpful for Wilson, who stands 5-10.

What's harder to see is whether Graham can be an asset as a legitimate blocker, not just a tight end who casually nudges a defender before releasing into pass routes. That is one area where Graham will need to develop.

"We have to move along further in camp to be able to assess everything, but right now, just his mentality, that is not something he is going to shy away from," Bevell said. "As we get through pads we'll be able to teach technique and those things and be able to move along."

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