Jimmy Graham is on the rise

New Orleans Saints rookie tight end Jimmy Graham should again play a prominent role Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks as the backup behind veteran David Thomas.

Graham stepped up with the best game of his young career after starter Jeremy Shockey went down with bruised ribs two weeks ago at Carolina, catching three passes for 49 yards, including his first career touchdown. And two weeks before that, he caught a career-high four passes for 38 yards at Tampa Bay.

But don't expect to see Graham basking in the spotlight anytime soon. His veteran teammates in the tight end corps have kept him humble this year by discouraging him from doing any media interviews during the week. If he does, it might cost him a penalty such as a dinner tab. Graham is allowed to talk after the game if he plays well enough, though, which was the case at Carolina.

Graham was a breakout star in the offseason, when he turned heads during training camp practices and preseason games for his rare combination of size (6-feet-6, 260 pounds), speed and athleticism. He's still a raw talent, having played just one year of college football at Miami (Fla.) after playing four years of basketball for the Hurricanes. But clearly, he's coming along.

"First off, getting into the lineup at his position with some of the guys ahead of him is challenging. And yet we've tried to expand his role each week," Payton said of Graham's development. "Certainly his strong suit is the ability to run and play the football above his head. And you look at improving his blocking technique and some of those aspects that are different for him with the experience he's had.

"And he just keeps getting better and (learning) all the nuances that go into that position that is more than just one-dimensional in what you ask the tight end to do."

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