Tight end Jimmy Graham has yet to overcome the injuries that last season minimized his playmaking ability.
But he’s getting close, and expects to be ready for Saints training camp in late July.
“Everything is going well,” he said after participating in Tuesday morning’s minicamp practice. “I’ve been in rehab, and I’ve been getting stronger. Right now I’m almost 100 percent. Going into (training) camp, I’ll be 100 percent.
“It just feels good. It just feels good to be healthy finally and back playing like myself.”
Back to play pitch-and-catch with Drew Brees. Back to telling Brees to throw it up for him, and coming down with the ball, thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame.
“He was banged up quite a bit last year, in his defense,” Brees said. “He’s had an offseason now to recover and be on the mend.”
Even with wrist and ankle ailments, which required surgery, Graham finished with a team-high 85 catches and 982 yards with nine touchdowns.His receptions ranked third in the NFL among tight ends, and his yardage second. Just as important, he caught 26 passes for first downs, tied for eighth in the league.
Despite the numbers, Graham said he could have accomplished more had he been healthy.
“I don’t use excuses, and I can’t blame it on that,” he said of last season’s injuries. “I think everyone in this room wished they could have plays over and wished they could have changed the outcome of last year. That is the past, and that year is over. Now I am healthy and just looking to the future and looking to get back in the playoffs.”
So far, coach Sean Payton likes what he’s seen of Graham, who enters his fourth NFL season.
“I think certainly getting him back after his offseason surgery (is a plus), and I know that he is anxious to get started on this year, but I thought his practice today stood out,” Payton said. “Certainly I think his expectation level is high, just as ours is as well, and I look forward to watching this upcoming season and him progress.”
Foes now teammates
Five months ago, Kenny Stills and Kenny Vaccaro stood on opposite sidelines, a vital matchup in one of college football’s biggest rivalries.
Texas versus Oklahoma. Or was it Sooners versus Longhorns?
Now they’re NFL teammates with the Saints.
The former participants of the Red River Rivalry have not faced each other as professionals during OTAs or minicamp, which started Tuesday morning. Not that Stills let that curb his sharp tongue. While Texas leads the series 59-43-5, Oklahoma has won the past three matchups.
“Whenever I see him out there, I always try to talk a little trash,” Stills said, smiling.
Still vs. Vaccaro is an intriguing matchup.
Stills, a receiver from Oklahoma, is competing for the No. 3 position. Vaccaro, the Saints’ No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft, is a former safety at Texas.
Defensive line competition
Competition at defensive end is necessary, Akiem Hicks said, so the best players can rise from the pack.
Hicks and Cameron Jordan are competing against a list of teammates for playing time, from Tom Johnson to Martez Wilson.
“Everybody’s fighting for a job, everybody wants to play on Sunday,” said Hicks, who is also being trained to play defensive tackle.
“Everybody’s going to get reps, but whose going to get the most?”
Quote of the day
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said while Will Smith and Junior Galette — the top two outside linebackers entering minicamp — will be called upon to drop in coverage next season, “they’re going to make their meat and potatoes with their pass rushing.”
Three miss practice
Free agent acquisition Keenan Lewis reportedly spent the eve of minicamp at a local hospital after complaining of stomach pain.
Lewis was absent from Tuesday’s morning session. Lewis has since checked out of the hospital, according his brother, Teral. Also not practicing at the morning session was tight end Ben Watson and cornerback Ryan Steed. Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead participated in half of the morning session.
Day 2 of Saints minicamp continues Wednesday at team headquarters (5800 Airline Highway, Metairie). The morning session is free and open to the public. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. Practice starts at 10:15 a.m. and ends at 12:45 p.m. In case of inclement weather, practice will move indoors and be closed to the public.
Ted Lewis contributed
to this report
Payton on Twitter
Payton, a recent addition to Twitter, credited his children ,Meghan and Connor for helping, if not pushing him to join the popular social networking site. He can be found @SeanPayton.
“It (activity) has been very minimal,” Payton said. “My arm was twisted, both arms (by) my children (who) brought me up to speed with how to even begin.”
Payton already has more than 42,000 followers.