Rams keeping eyes wide open when it comes to defending Jimmy Graham


EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Perhaps in an effort to keep their newest weapon under wraps as long as possible, the Seattle Seahawks didn't ask much of newly acquired Jimmy Graham in their preseason games.

In watching the tape this week to glean how the Seahawks might intend to use their Pro Bowl tight end, Rams coach Jeff Fisher saw, well, not much.

"We suspect they have a lot of things in for him because you didn't really see much of him in the passing game in the preseason," Fisher said.

But just because the Rams haven't seen how the Seahawks plan to use Graham doesn't mean they lack the knowledge needed to slow him down. In fact, the Rams have players and coaches who are plenty familiar with Graham. And to hear them tell it, defending the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham doesn't come down to things like strength or speed.

"You have to be very good with your eyes," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "A lot of times, when they do play action stuff, those guys are in the flat. But with a guy like Jimmy Graham, if you are a few steps behind, it's hard to catch him. A lot of times even when you are in coverage, his jump radius, his ability to go up for it is challenging, but I really like our guys we have. [He's] just another piece of ammunition for them and a great challenge."

Since Graham entered the league in 2010, he has played the Rams three times. In those three games, Graham has been held to seven catches for 85 yards with no touchdowns. In those meetings, the Rams have mixed and matched ways to defend Graham, even using cornerback Janoris Jenkins on him in a 2013 victory.

With Graham now in the NFC West and on the schedule twice per year, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams figures to throw multiple looks at Graham. Williams knows Graham well from their time together in New Orleans and has another player who is plenty familiar with Graham.

That would be safety Mark Barron, who spent his first 2½ seasons in Tampa Bay, one of the Saints' division rivals. Former Buccaneers special assistant Butch Davis once said the Bucs used the seventh overall choice on Barron in 2012 as a direct response to Graham's emergence in New Orleans.

Although Graham had a 10-catch, 179-yard performance against Tampa Bay in Week 2 of the 2013 season, safety Dashon Goldson covered Graham in the first half when Graham had eight catches for 156 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, with Barron covering him, Graham managed two catches for 23 yards and Barron finished with 10 tackles.

The key to slowing Graham? Barron echoed Laurinaitis.

"As long as we keep our eyes right and don't make mistakes, we'll be fine," Barron said. "In my opinion, that's the key. A lot of his plays, he is tricky with his routes. So a lot of times, guys have bad eyes and guess the wrong thing. So I think we have to make sure we are smart with our eyes and we'll be fine."

Most tight ends are pretty straightforward with their routes because they aren't athletic enough to change direction like receivers. But Graham is a different beast. Whether it's Jenkins, a linebacker like Alec Ogletree or a safety like Barron or T.J. McDonald drawing the assignment, one false step and Graham can run right by for a big play.

"He's just a really good football player," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "He came to us well-equipped. We're thrilled about the kind of player that he is, but even more so about the person that he is. He's just jumped in with our team and fit right in and has been accepted. Now it's just a process of getting to utilize the things he can do and developing and building the chemistry between the quarterback and receiver and all of that kind of cool stuff. That will improve for some time I think, but he looks like everything you’ve seen. He’s legit. He can make big plays and be a factor, so we’re hoping to fit him in the offense and make him a regular part of it."

And the Rams are hoping that process take at least an extra week for Graham to fit in. To make that happen, it's all about the eyes.