As everyone, including the Seahawks, waits to see him play in a game again, Jimmy Graham’s best moments of knee recovery are happening far behind the scenes.
In pregame warmups before an exhibition game.
And on a basketball court.
You didn’t see it Thursday, unless you were one of the few thousand ticket holders that beat the Puget Sound traffic and were inside CenturyLink Field an hour or so before kickoff. Well before the television broadcast began of the Seahawks’ preseason game against Dallas, the star tight end took some of his best steps yet.
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Graham looked fast, fluid and comfortable running routes for Russell Wilson and the first team offense in full pads during pregame warmups. While Graham is not yet ready to play in a game — it remains iffy that he’ll be ready when the regular season begins Sept. 11 against Miami — his warmups Thursday gave encouraging signs nearly nine months after he ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee.
Actually, coach Pete Carroll sounded beyond encouraged. As usual.
“He looked great in pregame. He was flying. He was really fired up,” Carroll said. “He ran a ton of sprints before that workout, with the throwing and the catching and then he took all those plays, and then he took the pregame warmup.
“He was lit up about it afterward. He really felt good and that was a big step for him. I’m excited for him.”
Before Graham took his next incremental step toward his eventual return, he took a few steps in an old, familiar setting.
Carroll and the Seahawks had the former University of Miami forward, dunker, shot-blocker and rebounder making V-cuts and pivots and reactions to the ball recently on a basketball court.
“The idea was to give him a chance to have to make moves that are not controlled,” Carroll said. “You have controlled workouts where you have bags and you’re changing direction and all those kind of things. I thought if he would just feel that, it would show him that he’s ready to go to the next level. We just had some fun doing it.”
Carroll, who loves to shoot hoops, couldn’t help but throw in: “I had him 3-2, in fact. He didn’t want me to tell you that.
“Then I stopped playing.”
Practices that resume Sunday will be the next indicator of how close Graham is to playing in a game. No one expects him to play in Thursday’s preseason finale at Oakland.
FIRST CUTS DUE BY TUESDAY
All NFL teams, including the Seahawks, have to be down from 90 to 75 players on their rosters by Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Some of those 15 cuts for Seattle seem obvious.
Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga looks destined for the injured-reserve list if the Seahawks want to keep the veteran they signed this offseason. If not, he could get waived/injured. He’s been out for all but one day with a calf injury since training camp began July 30.
Kasen Williams’ ongoing hamstring injury is hampering the former Washington Huskies receiver’s chances. Williams started last season on the practice squad then got promoted to the active roster for the end of 2015. But right now, he’s outside the set of six receivers Seattle will likely keep.
Several undrafted rookies have impressed enough they appear likely to not only survive Tuesday’s initial cuts but have a shot at making the team.
Tanner McEvoy helped himself again Thursday. Lined up at tight end, he drifted wide open between Dallas’ zones to make a 43-yard catch after Russell Wilson rolled left on a bootleg in the third quarter and had more than five seconds to throw. Later in the quarter, the 6-foot-5 ½ McEvoy, who is listed as a wide receiver, went from running an inside route to an outside route to level Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier with a shoulder block to the chest after Seahawks tight end Brandon Williams made a catch.
But Carroll said after Thursday’s game that McEvoy “tweaked” his groin. This late in the preseason, any injuries for players who have been impressive sometimes lead to injury-reserve designations, so as to not risk another team claiming such players on league waivers with a waived-injured move.
“He’s doing a lot of good stuff. You saw him play tight end (Thursday),” Carroll said. “Remember, he played safety for us at one time. He’s shown that he’s very flexible. A very smart football player, things come to him very easily. That was a huge play he made. I think he might be the only guy who got nicked tonight. He might have tweaked his groin a little bit. It wasn’t the hamstring that he had a couple days ago, that would question whether he would play tonight. He got through that, but something else popped up.”
Troymaine Pope keeps impressing coaches. Pope, from Jacksonville State, had four carries for 14 yards on Thursday. He had 86 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown last week against Minnesota, and ran in the winning two-point conversion on the final play of the preseason opener.
“He’s a fun kid to watch and an exciting player,” Carroll said, adding he will “be patient” with seeing more from him.
That means expect Pope to survive the cuts to 75 — and a lot of Pope running the ball this upcoming Thursday in Oakland.
The final roster cuts down to 53 players for the start of the regular season and must be submitted by Sept. 3.