For all that Randy Shannon did wrong in his time as head coach, it seems like he had a pretty decent time managing various reclamation projects. Lightly recruited players like Asante Cleveland and Kelvin Cain were some of the most promising freshmen this season, but a big feather in Shannon's cap is the success that Sam Shields (whose position coach predicted would be one of the best corners in the NFL in 5 years — lol I know, but play along) and Jimmy Graham have had this season in the NFL. And while it's true that both guys had, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minimal on the field impact for UM (or positive impact in Sam's case), the success of former players in the NFL remains one of the major selling points for a program that lacks top-level facilities, fans, stadium atmosphere etc.
But I digress. Let's move on to Jimmy Graham, because Jimmy Graham is sort of a sensation across the NFL right now. His story— ex-basketball player turned star TE— is not exactly unique in the wake of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but yet it's rare that experiments like this go as well as quickly as this one is seemingly going. So let's talk about Jimmy Graham, or better yet, let's read other people talking about JImmy Graham.
Lenny Vanglider, of foxsportssouthwest.com (?), tells the story of how none other than Donna Shalala was one of the first people at UM to push Graham onto the football field:
"I remember my junior year," Graham recalled earlier this week, "(Shalala) came up to me and said, 'You know what? You need to be on the football field.' I guess I was fouling so much."
Indeed, Graham would finish his basketball career with more fouls than field goals made.
He also notes that Graham is being mentored by AMERICA'S TIGHT END Jeremy Shockey, so we know who to turn to when Graham becomes a degenerative alcoholic with a tattoo of a crying bald eagle on his bicep:
Since arriving in New Orleans, Graham has developed a bond with another former Hurricanes tight end, teammate Jeremy Shockey.
"He teaches me everything," Graham said. "I think he's my biggest mentor.
"Every time I make a play in practice or in the game, he's the first one in my ear, either chewing me out or encouraging me. He tells me so many things, it's hard to listen to it all because he has so much information for me."
"He treats me like his younger brother. He picks on me a little bit, but it's tough love."
Bradley Handwerger, of WLTV in Louisiana, passes along the same anecdotes, but also gets some nice quotes from Drew Brees and Sean Payton.
"The biggest thing I love about him is he’s obviously really enthusiastic," Brees said. "He wants to be a great player. He wants to work at it. He’s so pleasant to be around. If you tell Jimmy there’s more work, there’s pep in his step."
"I think when we were in training camp we were seeing that the learning curve was going along pretty quick," Payton added. "He’s somebody that is a sharp study. It’s very important to him. During the course of training camp, heading into the preseason, we began to see the signs of someone who was progressing at a fast rate given the amount of snaps.
And then there's Brett Martel of the AP, who talked to Tony Gonzalez:
"I've been watching him," said Gonzalez, who'll be on the opposite sideline from Graham when the Saints visit the Falcons on Monday night. "When it's all said and done, I think he's going to be one of the best tight ends in the league if he stays healthy. He has the ability and the talent, and he seems like a real smart kid."
He also asked Brees to compare Graham to Gates as rookies, and it's a comparison that is apparently favorable to Graham:
"Jimmy's so much further along than Gates was when Gates first came in," Brees said, recalling how Gates, who didn't play college football, spent his first NFL season on the Chargers' practice squad.