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After Brees-bred breakout, Graham anxious for QB's holdout to end

by | CBSSports.com
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Drew Brees helped Jimmy Graham emerge as a Pro Bowl tight end in 2011. (Getty Images)  
Drew Brees helped Jimmy Graham emerge as a Pro Bowl tight end in 2011. (Getty Images)  

METAIRIE, La. -- Jimmy Graham isn't like many other Saints coaches and players when it comes to Drew Brees' contract status.

Graham stresses out over the whole ordeal.

"I'm pretty confident, at least I hope so," Graham said when asked if a Brees deal will eventually come to fruition. "He's our leader. We want him here. I can't wait for him to get here."

When asked at what point he starts worrying about Brees signing a deal, Graham said, "Is there a point you're ever not worried? He's our quarterback. You want him here. You want him on the field leading us."

Meanwhile, about 15 minutes before Graham talked about Brees' absence, Brees posted via Twitter a picture of him practicing his lines for a Nyquil commercial.

Considering how much Graham has blossomed under Brees' constant tutelage, the third-year budding star tight end can only hope Brees and the Saints can wake up from their contract slumber. Brees vastly aided in the warp-speed maturation of Graham as the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end went from a player who could be the next Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates into a player where teams are scouring for the next Jimmy Graham.

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Graham is coming off one of the most prolific seasons for a tight end in NFL history with 99 catches, 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Graham's natural ability undoubtedly plays a sizable role in how quickly he has turned into the mold of what every other team in the NFL is looking for in a tight end. But Graham will routinely point to big brother Brees as to why he is where he is.

Big brother Brees is always right in Graham's perspective.

He was even beginning to sound like Brees the perfectionist after Tuesday afternoon's Saints minicamp practice even though Brees was nowhere to be found.

"I see there's a lot of room for improvement when I watch film," Graham said. "There's A LOT of stuff I left out there that I'm still agitated about."

How much did he feel like he left on the field?

"I see just like an extra 30 receptions out there that I left," Graham said. "I see chances that I could have done a little bit more on some blocks. Spring a couple of running backs free for a couple of more yards. Things like that. I'm a young player. Also, I'm young to the game. Every day is a learning experience for me."

That sounds exactly like Brees. Always remembering the could'ves and should'ves that were missed despite the gaudy outputs hardly anyone else in the NFL can ever fathom producing in a season.

"I would say at the end of last year teams paid a little bit more detail towards me," Graham said. "I could tell they were paying attention to me more and playing different looks. And I was still able to find some holes. With this offense, it's really hard to stop one person. If you're focusing on one person, you know [Marques] Colston is going to go out there and light it up. Or [Darren] Sproles, or Devery [Henderson]. ... I don't know if you can defend any one person on this team. Because we know we're so dynamic and we have so many weapons, and that biggest weapon being Drew Brees."

That weapon, though, is caught in one of the more mystifying contract negotiations in recent memory. How much Brees' absence will stunt Graham's growth is an unknown at this point. This is the first legit offseason program with the Saints of Graham's career. He was a rookie in 2010 and his 2011 offseason workout program was run by Brees and linebacker Jonathan Vilma at the Tulane practice fields and workout rooms for the most part. Graham said the film room has been the most beneficial aspect of this offseason program as it's really the first time he has watched an entire season of his play in the league.

But nothing can simulate the synergy of Brees and Graham in an offseason where the rest of the league will be aiming to stop Graham rather than wondering if he'll be the next big thing.

"It's tough sometimes [with Drew not being around], but [backup QB] Chase [Daniel] has been doing a great job. ... But still I'd love to get reps with [Brees] and continue to work with that chemistry and continue to build on what we did last year and hopefully get better," Graham said.

Graham said he talks to Brees regularly, just not about football.

"I talk to him about fishing, golfing and flying," Graham said. "I know he's got a lot on his mind and he's going through a lot right now. I just tell him that we all love him here and we're all anticipating him coming back. I let him know we're working just as hard that he's not here. Because we know once he gets here, it's going to come quick."

You may have to do a double take here for a second. Fishing? OK. Golfing? Predictable. Flying? What!?!?!?

Graham has become an airplane-flying junkie this offseason. He said he piloted a plane every day last week flying his friends, family, teammates and anyone willing to share the cockpit with him. He flies over the Superdome and all over the New Orleans area enjoying the unique outlook from above.

"I've been doing some aerobatic stuff," Graham said. "So it's been pretty cool. I've been flipping planes. It's pretty neat."

He said his license level is at private and he's working on his Instrument Flight Rules and aerobatic certification. He also said he just took and passed a test to become IFR approved. He said he typically flies single-engine planes.

Why?

"Because those are the ones that flip," Graham said.

So not having Brees for the time being may not be the scariest thing for the Saints. Having Brees around may not keep Graham's feet on the ground literally. It's the figurative grounding of Graham that the tight end misses most from Brees being elsewhere.

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