Jimmy Graham will be a key focus in the Philadelphia Eagles defensive game plan. They will double him, jam him, do whatever it takes to make sure that he is not in a position to catch the ball. In order for Jimmy to have some success he need look no farther than the NFC South for advice; One of the best tight ends maybe in NFL History, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Tony Gonzalez has one skill in particular that separates him from Jimmy Graham; that is the art of creating separation. If you play defense you might call it “pushing off”. It isn’t really pushing off if it’s done right because both the offensive player and the defensive player have an equal right to run and cover each other when running their route and when the ball is in the air.
(Excuse the music in the video)
Using Game Rewind (free trial works great! I suggest it if you are a sports nut!), I noticed that many of Jimmy Graham’s touchdowns come when he is zone coverage. Only a handful have come against man coverage and even those touchdowns were jump balls against defensive back’s much smaller than Graham’s 6’6 stature.
In the playoffs however those easy jump balls will be hard to come by and he will need to take a leaf out of Gonzalez’s book to make those tough catches. The key to creating separation in man coverage is to just use your arm to create enough room to challenge for the ball without full extending your arm and pushing the defender down. When you extend your arm that is clear offensive pass interference. Great defensive backs use this technique as well to knock the ball down.
If Jimmy Graham begins to master this skill in the playoffs, he will truly become the hardest tight end to cover in the NFL. That’s the kind of tight end that can help you make a run against stout defenses on the road.