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John DeShazier: Jimmy Graham still looking for ways to improve

Graham: 'All the times where I was able to help the team the most was when I was blocking the best'

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – Training camp has been a little bit different for Jimmy Graham this season, given that Drew Brees, the only quarterback with whom he has had extensive work and the only one he ever has caught a pass from in a regular-season or playoff game, hasn't practiced since last Friday due to a strained oblique.

"I've caught a couple of touchdowns from a number other than 9 for the first time in my career," he joked.

On the serious side, he has had time to work with Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin more than usual, a positive considering Brees' undetermined playing status for Friday's preseason opener between the New Orleans Saints and Rams in St. Louis.

"It's been good to work on that communication with all these guys and they've done such a great job because they have so much on them," Graham said. "All the responsibilities that we put on our quarterback, it's a lot. You've got to call the protection, you've got three plays in your mind – 'kill' and 'opposite' and all these checks are very difficult.

"I'm somewhat of a unique player with a lot of my routes. A lot of my routes are option routes and me and Drew have such a feel for those things. He knows, based off my body language, what I'm going to do and the ball is always there. Now, it's working that with the other ones, and it's been good."

But that's not an usual result when Graham works with quarterbacks.

The consensus best tight end in the NFL last season (first-team All-Pro and NFC starter in the Pro Bowl) caught a franchise-record 16 touchdowns among his 85 receptions for 1,215 yards. He had 13 catches of at least 25 yards last season.

So it won't be a surprise on Friday or during the preseason if McCown and Griffin, during whatever time on the field that they share with Graham, find themselves leaning toward targeting him.

It's also no surprise that Graham continues to look for ways to improve.

"The last two years, everybody has been knocking on my blocking," he said. "I don't know why. But I'm truly healthy now. I think that's a big deal with that, the last two years (I had) some major injuries that kind of limited that.

"I took the time this offseason to really look at some film and analyze myself as a player. I noticed that all the times where I was able to help the team the most was when I was blocking the best, because that helps out on play action and it stops them from putting a corner pressed up, on the line, with an outside 'backer. It's only going to help the team out so that's what I'm going to do."

That, and continuing to be the same person he was when the Saints drafted him in the third round in 2010, despite having signed a new contract this offseason that significantly increased his salary.

"I think this offseason was a good grounding point for me, just dealing with everything by myself with only a couple of people in my corner," Graham said. "That'll keep you real grounded and it keeps you focused.

"That's all I did this offseason, was work out and fly. I'm a simple guy, nothing's changed, I'm still the same person I was four years ago."

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