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‘There were some dark days’: Seahawks’ Jimmy Graham returns to practice after difficult rehab

RENTON – Long before Jimmy Graham could resume running routes and catching passes, the Seahawks tight end said he had to relearn how to simply stand up and walk. He couldn’t so much as bend his right leg for 11 or 12 weeks following surgery to repair the patellar tendon that he tore in late November, an injury that cut his first season with Seattle short. There were, in his words, some “dark days” in the eight and a half months that followed.

All of that, Graham said, made his long-awaited return to practice on Wednesday especially gratifying, so much so that he got goosebumps as he took the field wearing his helmet and shoulder pads for the first time since his injury.

“I’ve never been through something that every day you had to do something for it, every day you wake up and until you go to bed you’re 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,” Graham said. “It’s something that I’m always going to have to pay attention to, and it’s a part of life now. It makes me appreciate the game even more than I did.”

The Seahawks activated Graham off the Physically Unable to Perform list Wednesday, clearing the way for his return to practice. He only took part in warmups and positional drills then watched the team periods from the sideline, which was a predictably light workload given the team’s stated plan of easing him back into action.

It remains to be seen how much, if at all, Graham will play in the preseason. Comments from coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have left the impression that the team feels Graham will be ready by Seattle’s regular-season opener on Sept. 11, but when asked if he has any doubts about his availability, Graham smiled and said he’s not allowed to answer that question.

He was much more candid about his injury and the difficult rehab that followed.

It happened in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s win over Pittsburgh in Week 12 as he was trying to haul in a deep pass in the end zone. Graham said he hasn’t watched the replay and “probably never will,” but he recalled that it was right after a change of possession and wondered if still being stiff from having just come back off the sideline was a factor. He knew right away that it was serious.

“The pain was pretty terrible, that’s for sure,” he said, “and when you look down at your knee and you don’t see your kneecap, you know something’s wrong.”

Graham said there were stretches following surgery that he would feel OK, but then there were days that he would suddenly feel especially sore.

“You end up questioning yourself like, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Why is this so hard?'” he said. “Especially for me in my career, I felt like a lot of things have come easy. I’ve always just been athletic and fast and to have to learn how to walk again, it’s very humbling, that’s for sure. But for me, I’ve learned patience, that you just have to stay mentally strong every day and set goals and never get frustrated with the process, kind of embrace the process.”

Graham said his close friends and family helped him along the way as did support from the organization and his teammates. He mentioned fellow tight end Luke Willson and their position coach, Pat McPherson, as well as cornerback Richard Sherman, saying Sherman visited him every day in the training room to offer encouragement.

“A lot of teams, when you get hurt they kind of make you leave the building or they want you to go get rehab somewhere because they don’t want you to be lingering around. But this team and every one of my teammates just uplifted me the entire time,” he said. “… Everybody in this building has been nothing but positive and nothing but encouraging about everything, telling me how much they need me and how much they can’t wait until I get back. So just having to hear that every day, all the love that I get from this building, it just definitely helps.”

Patellar-tendon injuries are known for being especially difficult to recover from compared to more common knee injuries like ACL tears. Graham noted that one of the challenges is the tendency to suffer other injuries while trying to compensate, something he talked about with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who hasn’t played since tearing his patellar tendon in October of 2014 then hurting the calf on his other leg the following summer.

Cruz’s advice was to take things slow. Graham said he’s been itching to get back on the field so he get to work on re-establishing his chemistry with quarterback Russell Wilson. But he acknowledged that it was wise to not rush back.

“I’m a knucklehead so I would’ve started a long time ago, but we’ve done it right, we’ve done it safe and it’s time for me to start the connection with Russ,” he said. “I think we both felt it, and I’ve been out here busting my butt every morning and every afternoon, so it’s time.”

Graham, 29, said he’s lost about 15 pounds and is “back to my young weight” of 260. Asked if there’s anything he needs to do on the field to know that he’s back to being his old self, Graham said he can’t wait to score his first touchdown.

“That’ll be probably the sweetest moment for me, to overcome this and to do it the way I’ve done it, to know how much went into it,” he said. “I’ve done nothing but this. I’ve dedicated every second of the day to this. I got a rehab facility at my house now … That’s all I’ve been doing.”