When the Seahawks acquired tight end Jimmy Graham in a blockbuster trade this offseason, Pete Carroll immediately noted Graham's red zone success when explaining the thinking behind the deal.
Graham's red-zone dominance
On Tuesday, in his second OTA practice with his new team, Graham showed off a little bit of what made him so appealing to the Seahawks. In a practice that was heavy on red-zone work, Russell Wilson looked to Graham repeatedly, and time and time again, and the big tight end came through with touchdown catches.
"It's really cool," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We missed him a couple of days when he had to go down south (for a funeral). But it's good to see him out here. You could see him show up in the ways that we're hoping he's going to be able to. It's really cool. The sky's the limit for us right now.
"His size is tremendous. With how tall he is, he's got a great catch radius, he can leap up and catch the ball, he's flexible enough that if you throw a back-shoulder throw, he can get back there and get those as well. We're excited to keep playing with it and see what we have."
Graham punctuated most of his touchdowns with a huge spike, which led to some playful banter between him and several members of the defense, including Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman. Graham had a simple explanation for the secret to his red-zone success.
"Honestly, I'm just bigger than everybody," he said with a grin. "So it's easy."
While Graham stood out, he wasn't the only pass-catcher making plays in the red zone. Second-year receiver Kevin Norwood turned in the catch of the day, a leaping, twisting effort on a pass thrown slightly behind him and Super Bowl XLIX breakout player Chris Matthews used his 6-foot-5 frame well to haul in a touchdown.
In addition to Graham's red-zone dominance, here are four more takeaways from Tuesday's practice in the VMAC indoor facility.
Earl Thomas is back… sort of
When Seattle's All-Pro safety underwent offseason shoulder surgery, the question wasn't whether he would take place in offseason workouts, but rather if he would be ready for the start of the season. Pete Carroll said last week that Thomas should be ready for the start of training camp, then on Tuesday Thomas appeared to speed up the timeline, taking part in the early part of practice, though he did not participate in the 11-on-11 portion of practice; instead DeShawn Shead filled in with the No. 1 defense. When he wasn't practicing, Thomas stood deep behind the defense watching intently.
Ryan Robinson: depth-chart climber
With defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril both absent from Tuesday's workout, it was no surprise to see players like Cassius Marsh and Frank Clark lining up with the first-team defense. But what was less expected was seeing defensive end Ryan Robinson earn first-team snaps, both in the nickel and base defense. Robinson, in his third year out of Oklahoma State, last appeared in a regular season game in 2013, when he played 11 games for the Oakland Raiders. With Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel also sitting out, Ahtyba Rubin and Jordan Hill were the starters in the base defense, while Clark slid inside to play next to Hill in the nickel D.
Robinson was one of several players trying to take advantage of extra reps made possible by absent teammates. Kevin Pierre-Louis saw time as the starting weakside linebacker, with K.J. Wright moving to the strongside, the position usually occupied by Bruce Irvin. Former safety/cornerback Eric Pinkins continues to work at strongside linebacker, and nearly ended practice with an interception. With Jeremy Lane recovering from knee and arm injuries, Will Blackmon continued to get first-team reps as the nickel cornerback. And with Marshawn Lynch absent, Robert Turbin recovering from hip surgery and Christine Michael also held out of today's OTA, it was a very busy day for undrafted rookies Thomas Rawls and Rod Smith.
B.J. Daniels is a receiver
With Russell Wilson away last week, B.J. Daniels was back at quarterback mostly out of need, but now that Wilson is back after supporting teammates Jimmy Graham and Cliff Avril following deaths in their families, Daniels was back at receiver, continuing a conversion that started late last season. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell confirmed that Daniels is primarily a receiver at this point.
Daniels also fielded kickoffs and punts during practice. And speaking of returns, while Carroll made no secret of the fact that rookie Tyler Lockett is the frontrunner to win one, if not both, return jobs, the Seahawks are looking at plenty of candidates right now. In addition to Daniels and Lockett, Doug Baldwin, Kevin Smith and Will Blackmon all returned kickoffs. Daniels, Lockett, Thomas Rawls, Baldwin, and Smith all were fielding punts. Paul Richardson, who is recovering from a torn ACL, even caught a couple of punts at the end of practice. Daniels playing receiver left only Wilson and R.J. Archer at quarterback, though for now, Bevell said two quarterbacks are enough for what the team is trying to get done in practice.
Russell Wilson might be faster in 2015
During an interview on 710 ESPN Seattle last week, Russell Wilson's agent, Mark Rodgers, said his client is working with a new trainer, with a big emphasis on speed. While Wilson's primary goal will be to get the ball to his teammates, he indeed might be better equipped to outrun a pursuing linebacker or defensive back this year based on the speed he showed Tuesday while scrambling.
"I was definitely doing a lot of leg work," said Wilson, who reported he is about 10 pounds over his listed weight of 206 pounds. "Just trying to get my legs strong and working on my speed more than anything. Working on my legs has really helped my arm strength as well, so that's one of the things I want to continually work on… I definitely think I'm faster. I haven't really timed myself, but I definitely think I'm a couple of clicks faster."