Without K.J. Wright, stopping Jimmy Graham will be team effort for Seahawks
Saints star tight end Jimmy Graham struggled last time against the Seahawks — three catches for 42 yards. But K.J. Wright, who played a large role in shutting him down, won’t play Saturday for Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporters
RENTON – The last time New Orleans came to town, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright played his best game.
A big part of that was how he handled Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, one of the league’s best at his position.
Graham had just three catches for 42 yards — both below his season averages — although he did catch a touchdown pass.
Wright won’t play in Saturday’s playoff game against the Saints because of a broken foot, which brings up one of the most interesting questions surrounding this matchup: How will the Seahawks defend Graham?
If the way the Seahawks played Graham the last time is any indication, it will be an all-hands-on-deck effort. Wright spent a good part of his day shadowing Graham, but he certainly wasn’t alone. Coach Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN Radio that the Seahawks would have to make up for “four, five or six plays” that Wright accounted for last game.
At different times, either in man-to-man coverage or in zone, a handful of Seahawks took their turn covering Graham: cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman, safety Kam Chancellor, linebacker Bobby Wagner and even defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Clint McDonald.
“Everybody’s going to have their shot on him,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said. “We have an equal-opportunity defense.”
Malcolm Smith has been an above-average replacement for Wright at outside linebacker, but he’s smaller than Wright and not quite as adept in coverage. Carroll was vague in how the Seahawks would defend Graham, saying, “Hopefully there will be a couple surprises left by game day.”
Graham leads the Saints in catches (86), yards (1,215) and touchdowns (16), and some of his least productive games have come in New Orleans’ losses.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he had two interviews last week for vacant NFL head-coaching positions, but he noted his attention this week has shifted wholly to game-planning for Saturday’s game.
Washington and Minnesota had reportedly set up interviews, though Bevell didn’t specifically identify the teams. Detroit and Tennessee are believed to be interested, as well.
Asked how the process went, Bevell said with a laugh: “It’s better to ask them! ... I don’t know what they thought about it.”
Bevell was in the mix for coaching jobs at Arizona, Chicago and Jacksonville last offseason.
“I think they were great experiences for me last year, just to learn what the interview process is,” he said. “No one is going to tell what happened, but as I came out of it, (I realized) things I wish I would’ve done better, then give it another shot.”
Everyone on the Seahawks’ active roster except Wright was healthy enough to practice Tuesday, Carroll said.
Percy Harvin practiced for the third straight day dating to last week as he aims to return from a hip injury that has kept him out since Nov. 17. Carroll still hasn’t committed to the receiver’s availability against the Saints.
Asked if Harvin’s prospective comeback would include returning kicks, the coach said, “If he’s playing, in my mind, he’s playing, so we’ll do everything we want to do with him.”
Tight end Luke Willson returned to practice after suffering a sprained ankle in the regular-season finale against St. Louis, Carroll said. Receiver Jermaine Kearse was also back after resting an ankle injury last week.
Wright, who is recovering from foot surgery, has been ruled out of the Saints game but is expected to run Thursday. Carroll said it was a good indicator toward Wright’s availability for the NFC Championship Game, should the Seahawks advance.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org