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Saints’ Jimmy Graham is a fright end for opponents

Updated: November 5, 2013 6:31AM



If Drew Brees were the weapon that Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer was talking about defending, his strategy would be a cliché.

‘‘The best antidote would be our offense staying on the field,’’ Kromer said.

Only the subject wasn’t a quarterback. It was a tight end.

That’s how good Jimmy Graham is and how red-hot he is coming into the game Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field. The 6-7, 260-pound Graham has 27 receptions for 458 yards (17 yards per catch) and six touchdowns in four games. He has more touchdowns than any receiver or tight end in football. He is second to the Falcons’ Julio Jones (481) in yardage.

‘‘He’s a mismatch nightmare,’’ defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ‘‘He runs like a wide receiver. He’s got excellent catch radius. He’s a fierce competitor. His quarterback looks for him. And he feels like every ball thrown to him, he should catch it.’’

Graham has caught a touchdown pass in all four games. He has had 100 receiving yards or more in the last three — against the Buccaneers (10-179, one touchdown), Cardinals (9-134, two touchdowns) and Dolphins (4-100, two touchdowns). He already has touchdown receptions of 56 and 43 yards.

Like the other prolific tight ends in the NFL, Graham benefits from having vast experience in a well-conceived offense with multiple weapons and a Pro Bowl quarterback who knows how to use all of them.

‘‘They do a great job with formations,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘Whether he’s in a core or split out in the slot of the No. 1 receiver out wide, he’s everywhere. Sean [Payton] and those guys do a phenomenal job of shifts and formations and different types of looks, trying to create mismatches. It’s a huge challenge for us.’’

The challenge is not only containing Graham, but doing so without springing a leak somewhere else.

‘‘Teams have doubled Jimmy Graham in the past, and [Brees] will throw it to somebody else,’’ said Kromer, who was the Saints’ offensive line coach during Graham’s first three seasons in the NFL. ‘‘I’m not a defensive coach . . . but I think you do what you do [best] and try to get to Drew as best you can.’’

Tim Jennings, the Bears’ feisty 5-8 cornerback, said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

‘‘But it’s going to take a team effort — the corners, the safeties, D-line, linebackers,’’ Jennings said. ‘‘Everybody’s going to have to get there and make the throw a little tougher. That dude is tough in the run game [blocking]. He’s everything that we see. It’ll be exciting to see him in person.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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