Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson has watched tape of just about all of Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham’s 52 catches this season.
Usually, Gipson doesn’t offer much praise to opposing players, especially considering that he boasted before the Jaguars beat the Cleveland Browns during Week 11 that they would hang 40 on them and come away with a shutout (the Jaguars won 19-7).
But Gipson has tapered his boasting somewhat this week, admitting that Graham poses problems, especially in the red zone.
Graham, who is 6-foot-7, has been targeted 83 times this season, fifth-most among tight ends. And Graham’s nine red-zone touchdowns lead the league.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash on Thursday called Graham a matchup nightmare his unit will have to be aware of at all times, especially when quarterback Russell Wilson scrambles.
Still, Gipson has plenty of confidence in a Jaguars defense that is allowing 167.1 yards passing per game, the fewest in the NFL.
“You’ve got to respect him,” Gipson said of Graham. “I don’t think there is a tight end that’s caught more touchdowns. He definitely going to get his opportunities. But I’m confident in my skill set. But it’s always tough when you’re going against a big guy like that.”
Prior to his trade to Seattle in 2015, Graham became a star for the New Orleans Saints after he was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft.
At the University of Miami, Graham played four years of basketball and only one year of college football.
But in his second season with the Saints in 2011, taking advantage of his height to outjump defensive backs and safeties, he caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and scored 11 touchdowns to earn a Pro Bowl spot.
He continued to be a vital part of the Saints’ offense, which included 1,215 receiving yards in 2013, until they abruptly traded him in March, 2015, in exchange for center Max Unger and a first-round pick.
In his first season with the Seahawks, Graham suffered a knee injury and didn’t develop into the red-zone scoring threat until this season after taking advantage of offseason work with Wilson.
In his first two seasons in Seattle, Graham combined for only eight touchdowns.
“We’re fortunate to have him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Jimmy has really made himself into an all-around tight end. He’s become a really good blocker, he works hard at it, didn’t have to do it early in his career, but decided to take the challenge and make himself a complete tight end. It’s wonderful to have the chemistry going between Jimmy and Russell and hopefully it will keep going.”
Prior to this week, Gipson said he was told by the Jaguars’ defensive coaches that if he wanted to be assigned to cover Graham on Sunday, the job was his.
Because of that assignment, Gipson said Sunday’s game can’t come soon enough.
“He’s a basketball player, so obviously you see plays like that,” Gipson said. “He plays basketball on the field - he’s boxes you out. I’m only 5-11, so my arms are only so long. But I’ve got to do my work.”
In last week’s 30-10 victory against the Colts, Gipson mostly covered 6-6 tight end Jack Doyle and limited him to three catches for 16 yards.
“He put the clamps on and locked him down,” safety Barry Church said. “But we’re going have to make sure all of us keep our eyes on Graham and be physical. When Russell start scrambling anything can happen.”
In their attempt to contain Graham, Wash said the Jaguars are not likely to play as much man coverage as they’ve done in previous games.
“I don’t know if we faced any (tight end) the caliber of Graham, but it’s going to be a situation where our linebackers and our safeties are going to need to know where he’s at in zone and man coverage to try and contain him as much as we can,” Wash said.