Jimmy Graham’s competitiveness hasn’t disappeared simply because he’s nearing his 35th birthday and the twilight of a 12-year NFL career.
So the Chicago Bears tight end has had to give himself a dose of perspective in a season in which he has two catches for 39 yards and missed his first two games since 2015 because he tested positive for COVID-19.
“It takes a big, humbling pill to humble yourself and realize where you are in your career and where you can be useful,” Graham said. “The game itself, I’ve got a great mental grasp on it. For me, it makes it more entertaining when I am helping other guys out.”
“When you’re able to then put this knowledge — route running and what I know about defenses and help out guys — it makes it fun. It makes every week fun, especially when you’ve got young guys who want to listen.”
The Bears signed Graham in 2020 to a two-year, $16 million contract in part for that leadership but also largely because he was a player who had amassed 649 catches for 7,883 yards and 74 touchdowns in the first 10 years of his career.
He came through with 50 catches for 456 yards and eight touchdowns last season. But after the Bears decided to keep him around in the offseason despite salary-cap concerns, his production has been much more limited in a tight ends group that added Jesse James in training camp.
Graham has played between 16% and 39% of offensive snaps in each of his seven games this season. His three targets against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 were the most this season, his previous high two against the Los Angeles Rams in the opener.
And so Graham said he is trying to remember the big picture, and that includes his continued mentorship of 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet. Graham rattled off a long list of players — Drew Brees, David Thomas, Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston — who helped him when he was starting his career with the New Orleans Saints and “knew nothing about the game, knew nothing about life.”
Now it’s his turn to pay that help forward.
“I know I have many different roles on this team,” Graham said. “I know I’ve got to be ready when my number’s called. But I know I also have a leadership role with these young guys and with my boy Cole, and getting him right and seeing his growth throughout this season is awesome. I celebrate each and every guy’s success on this team because I was there and I had many helping hands to get me where I am today.”
That’s not to say Graham can’t still be useful on the field.
He was on the receiving end of the play against the Steelers that everyone was still talking about this week — Justin Fields’ 28-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Fields stood in the pocket as he was about to get hit and delivered a laser to Graham just past two Steelers safeties that Graham caught in stride.
In his first game back after COVID-19, Graham also dropped a slightly tipped pass in the end zone at the end of the first half and had a 1-yard touchdown catch wiped out by a questionable low-block penalty on right guard James Daniels.
Graham used the word “unbelievable” four times as he described the 28-yarder he caught.
“Unbelievable read there. And pass,” Graham said. “Most of the week we had been really reading out the other side. But he saw the safety was a bit cheated over on the hash and he gave me a ball that really kept me safe. That’s what is so unbelievable about it. A lot of younger guys would then try to bend you in a little bit. But it was just a perfect pass, man. It was unbelievable.
“And he also took a shot there as far as standing in the pocket and holding in there and throwing into double coverage. It was, I think, really unbelievable. He’s been growing a lot. And we’ve been continually working. And his growth has been amazing and he has continued each and every week to just get more comfortable. We’ll continue to see his growth on plays like that.”
Bears coach Matt Nagy was asked early in the week whether the Bears might get Graham, who has been targeted six times, involved more in the passing game moving forward. Nagy didn’t commit. He simply said Graham can start to get in a better routine after the two-week COVID-19 absence, a rarity for a player who missed more than one game in a season only once — when he ruptured his patellar tendon in 2015.
Graham said he will take what roles the Bears give him.
“I didn’t think I’d be the old guy ever in the locker room,” Graham said. “But here I am.”
Injury update: Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack (foot), defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (ankle), wide receiver Allen Robinson (hamstring), inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee) and offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson (back) didn’t practice Thursday. Safety Eddie Jackson (hamstring) and wide receiver Darnell Mooney (foot) were limited.
Source: Berkshire mont