If the pain didn’t already make it obvious, Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham had a powerful visual image that his eventual return to the NFL would be hard.
“The pain was pretty terrible, for sure,” he said. “When you look down at your knee and you don’t see your kneecap, you know something’s wrong.”
The kneecap, and Graham, are back in place. At least physically. Where they are for pro football is one of the main storylines of the Seahawks season.
The day after RB Thomas Rawls returned from surgery to fix a broken ankle, Graham Wednesday was catching balls at practice for the first time since he tore his patellar tendon Nov. 29 in a game against Pittsburgh.
Two of the offense’s premier performers have been advanced off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. That doesn’t mean a lot when it comes to preparedness for the NFL’s weekly equivalent of the average car collision.
But Graham’s ache for such impacts was palpable.
“I can’t wait for that first touchdown, honestly,” he said. “That will probably be the sweetest moment for me, to overcome this and to do it the way I’ve done it.
“I’ve done nothing but (rehab). I’ve dedicated every second of the day to this. I got a rehab facility at my house now. That’s all I’ve been doing.”
As with Rawls, no timetable for return to game action is clear, although coach Pete Carroll has maintained throughout the off-season that both figure to be available for the start of regular season Sept. 11.
How good will they be? No one can say.
But the Seahawks were sufficiently concerned to draft three running backs in case Rawls, the successor to Marshawn Lynch, couldn’t go hard. They also chose a tight end, 6-6, 257-pound Nick Vannett of Ohio State, in the third round, the 94th player and third tight end taken, as insurance against Graham’s potential debilitation.
Patellar tendon tears are a less common type of knee injury in football, and full recovery from surgery is less likely than with ligament tears. ESPN reviewed the injury’s NFL history in a December story found here. The conclusion: Not good.
Graham was candid about the ordeal of recovery, especially for an athlete who has never had such a serious injury.
“Randomly, you’ll feel good for weeks and then all of a sudden you’ll have a bad day where you’re really sore,” he said. “You end up questioning yourself, like, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Why is this so hard?’
“Especially for me in my career. I felt like a lot of things have come easy. I’ve always just been athletic and fast. To have to learn how to walk again, I mean, it’s very humbling.”
Graham’s right leg was immobilized for three months after surgery. He took counsel from other NFL players who had the same injury, such as former Saints teammate John Stinchcomb and Giants receiver Victor Cruz. He also said had enormous support from his Seahawks teammates.
“A lot of teams, when you get hurt, kind of make you leave the building,” he said. “They don’t want you to be lingering around. But this team and every one of my teammates just uplifted me the entire time.
“Richard Sherman — every day he comes in the training room and encourages me. Everybody in this building has been nothing but positive and encouraging, telling me how much they need me and how much they can’t wait until I get back . . . all the love that I get from this building, it just definitely helps.”
Also meaningful was Graham’s inclusion in the wedding party for QB Russell Wilson and Ciara in a British castle.
“It meant a lot, and that’s why I flew halfway around the world for it,” he said. “I’ve been through quite a bit over the last year and a half. Personally and on the field, he’s a guy who stood by me.”
Clearly the Seahawks players, and the coaches, want a big-time tight end for the versatility he delivers to the offense. And the plays for Graham no longer have to be forced, given how options opened up in the season’s second half a year ago when the coaches committed to a shorter, quicker passing game.
“With Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, we don’t feel like we have to force-feed it to anybody,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Wednesday. “Never before, I don’t think, have I ever had a guy that has had a hundred catches. I don’t foresee it being that way.
“If we can spread the ball out and everybody’s making plays for us, then I think we are a much more effective offense that way rather than trying to force-feed one guy.”
Graham appears to have done all he can to report for duty. Whether he plays to officer grade or enlisted man is part of the high drama of the season.
Jahri Evans’ deal has only $80,000 guaranteed
The Seahawks’ gamble on the potential contributions of G Jahri Evans, 32, wasn’t a big one. ESPN reported that the one-year deal for $1.065 million contains only $80,000 guaranteed. If he is injured, he can be released and receive a split salary of $478,000.
Evans, a free agent after 10 successful seasons in New Orleans, was brought in for experienced depth, as well as a possible starter if the mix of players new to each of the five line positions doesn’t work out.
After a career at right guard, Evans, a four-time All-NFL selection, has seen snaps at training camp on the left side as the Seahawks see whether he can back up both spots.