RENTON Jimmy Graham sounded humbled. He even used that word. More than once.
It was indeed a different, slimmer, more team-oriented $40 million tight end that spoke Wednesday at Seahawks training camp following his return to practice for the first time since a ruptured patellar-tendon in his knee ended his Seattle debut season Nov. 29.
“To have to learn how to walk again, it’s humbling,” Graham said.
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Graham returned to practice Wednesday after missing all offseason then the first nine practices of camp while he was on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
To be on the field practicing again was, Graham said, “probably the best it’s ever felt. When you are away from it as long as I’ve been, it’s very sweet when you get the opportunity to do it again.
He said he knee was immobilized in a brace for 11-12 weeks following the surgery in early December. That means he didn’t begin walking again until March. He did the first stages of his rehabilitation near his offseason home in South Florida.
“There were some dark days,” he said. “You know, it’s been eight months. I’ve never been through something where every day you have to do something for it. Every day you wake up and until you go to bed you are 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 I am always going to have to pay attention to. It’s part of life now.
“It makes me appreciate the game more. Being out there today, I feel a passion, full of fire. I get goosebumps just walking out that door. So it was a great day.”
Graham made a point to publicly thank teammate Richard Sherman for, upon Graham’s return to Seahawks headquarters to continue his recovery, poking his head into the team’s training room “every day” to encourage the tight end to keep grinding.
Graham said he lost 15 pounds during his rehabilitation to leave him at 260 pounds. That, he thinks, is a good thing.
Referring to the play in the end zone of CenturyLink Field against Pittsburgh in which his knee buckled for the injury: “Being 275 running go routes down the field, probably not a good idea.”
But this time last year the Seahawks were concerned with making Graham, the NFL’s most prolific pass-catching tight end outside with New Orleans from 2011 until last season, an adept run blocker inside. Seattle has since drafted rookie tight end Nick Vannett and signed free-agent veteran Brandon Williams, formerly of the University of Oregon, the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, to handle interior blocking at the position. That will presumably return Graham to his more comfortable role an inside and outside receiver down the field this season.
That is, when he returns. No one -- including offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell -- is guaranteeing Graham will start the opening game Sept. 11 against Miami.
When I asked Graham if he had any doubt he will be playing in that first game he smiled and said “I can’t answer that. I’m not allowed to answer that.”
“Good answer,” a Seahawks staff chimed in.
Graham said he has talked to Victor Cruz, the New York Giants wide receiver who had the same injury two seasons ago and has yet to return to play a game. Cruz has had assorted injuries on his other, not previously repaired leg since his patellar-tendon injury. Graham said his takeaway from talking to Cruz is: Don’t rush back.
The way he caught only a few passes at the start of practice then took off his shoulder-pad shell and watched the rest of the day’s drills showed his return will be a gradual one.
Yet his return to the practice field, even for limited participation, plus the fact he’s no longer on the PUP list cement the fact the Seahawks expect Graham and fellow PUP-list returnee Thomas Rawls to be playing when the games get real next month.