Jimmy Graham was all smiles as he took to the practice field at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center for his team's 10th workout of training camp, an ear-to-ear expression he would later tweet took "8 months/253 days/6072 hours" for him to get back.
"There were some dark days," Graham said of his recovery from the torn patellar tendon that brought an early end to his first season in Seattle. "I mean it's been eight months. It's been a constant eight months. I've never been through something that every day you had to do something for it. Every day you wake up and until you go to bed you're doing some type of rehab, and it's been like that for me for eight months, and it will continue to be like that for me for the next eight months.
"It's something that I'm always going to have to pay attention to and it's a part of life now," he added. "It makes me appreciate the game even more than I did. Just being out there today I'm full of passion, full of fire and I get goosebumps just walking out of that door, so it was a great day."
Graham's injury came in Seattle's Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last November after going up for a fourth quarter pass from quarterback Russell Wilson. Graham said he hasn't watched the film of the play and "probably never will," but did recall the "pretty terrible" pain he felt that day.
"When you look down at your knee and you don't see your kneecap, you know something's wrong," he said.
The injury required surgery, and following the operation, Graham's knee was immobilized, extended straight out for "11 to 12 weeks." It forced him to learn how to stand and walk again, noting the "biggest battles" he encountered in his return came on the mental side of things.
"You have good days and you have bad days," said Graham. "Randomly you'll feel good for weeks and then all of a sudden you'll have a bad day where you're really sore. 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 and to have to learn how to walk again, I mean it's very humbling, that's for sure.
"But for me, I've learned patience, that you just have to stay mentally strong every day and set goals and never get frustrated with the process. Kind of embrace the process."
To stay strong through the process, Graham was helped by his close friends, family, and teammates, who along with Seattle's coaches, athletic training staff, and team personnel have "been awesome with taking their time and being patient with me," Graham said.
"It's very interesting with this team," he said. "A lot of teams, when you get hurt they kind of make you leave the building, or you know, they want you to go get rehab somewhere because they don't want you to be lingering around. But this team and every one of my teammates just uplifted me the entire time. I'm talking about Richard Sherman every day comes in the training room and encourages me and every time I'm running he steps out there. Luke Willson, [tight ends coach] Pat [McPherson], everybody in this building has been nothing but positive and nothing but encouraging about everything. Telling me how much they need me and how much they can't wait until I get back.
"Just having to hear that every day, all the love that I get from this building, it just definitely helps."
Acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints last year, Graham finished his first season in the Pacific Northwest with 48 catches for 605 yards and three touchdowns. The former Pro Bowler was forced to watch as Seattle's offense soared to close the regular season, a campaign that ended with a divisional-round playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"For me, that's probably the hardest part of this entire thing to know that I couldn't be out there helping us out," Graham said. "Especially when we made it to the playoffs, just not being able to do my job. I've never had that in my career, so the first time to sit at home and just watch was probably the toughest thing I've ever been through."
Graham was limited to individual drills in his return to work on Wednesday, but having him back in the mix with running back Thomas Rawls, who returned to practice on Tuesday after starting training camp alongside Graham on the Physically Unable to Perform list, "uplifts the whole team," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
"It picks up everybody, picks their spirits up as well, but we still have got to be smart with them," Bevell said. "There's a lot of things that they still have to be able to progress through just to get them back out here and start to have a little rapport, try to get reconnected with their teammates. They have done so much work on the side by themselves, individually with their trainers, so it is really good to have them out here."
The Seahawks have maintained the hope that both Graham and Rawls will be ready for the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 11 at CenturyLink Field. As evidenced by both players' comments the past couple days, they will not be rushed into action. But the fact that each player is practicing with the team before the first preseason game bodes well for their chances of being ready when the 2016 season begins.
"As long as things continue to go the way that they are, then we feel good about it," said Bevell. "There is still a long way to go and a lot of work for them to do, but we are just excited to see them out there again."
Added Graham: "I can't wait for that first touchdown, honestly. That will probably be the sweetest moment for me, to overcome this and to do it the way I've done it, to know how much went into it. I mean, I've done nothing but this. I've dedicated every second of the day to this. ... That's all I've been doing."
Check out the best photos from the 10th day of Seahawks training camp held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday.