Cornerback Kevin Toliver has a nickname for tight end Jimmy Graham. He told him about it the other day.
“He looks just like the Terminator,” Toliver said. “He walks like him and everything. He’s a beast. He’s a freak.”
The comparison reflects well on Graham’s offseason workout plan, driven by one of the worst years of his career. It shows the admiration his new teammates have for Graham, who turns 34 in November and first became a legitimate star when many were in high school. The five-time Pro Bowl player has dominated red-zone drills through three padded practices, spiking balls or heaving them back to his quarterback in celebration.
The hype is hardly a guarantee of success, though. Case in point: Coach Matt Nagy calls fellow tight end Cole Kmet “RoboCop,” and he hasn’t even played an NFL snap.
Graham doesn’t have to be the Terminator, though. The Bears merely hope that Graham settles somewhere between the action-hero hype and his struggles last year. Throw out his rookie season, and he set career lows with 38 catches, 60 targets and 447 receiving yards with the Packers in 2019.
“I have a lot to prove,” Graham said. “I mean, I have a big chip on my shoulder to do as best as I can with this new opportunity.”
Nagy was an avowed Graham fan before the Bears signed the 6-7, 265-pound behemoth to a two-year, $16 million deal in March. Graham has shared his experience — with players and coaches — since.
“On top of that, too, he brings this mentality of, every time we step on the field, it’s a mentality that we are going to be attacking and aggressive,” Nagy said. “And we are going to do everything we can to do that.
“So he’s leading by example, and then vocally when something happens — or physically with throwing a ball — he’s gonna do it.”
Graham isn’t shy about his motivation after two lackluster years in Green Bay.
“Two years with the Packers for me was a unique time,” Graham said. “Going through the head-coach change there wasn’t something I was expecting. And to go to a new coach and have a new offense, this will be my fourth offense in four years.”
Asked about the difference between the Bears and Packers, Graham made it clear he’ll savor the rivalry.
“I mean,” he said, “aside from the fact that they both hate each other?”
Graham has been through truncated offseasons before: the 2011 NFL lockout in his second season; in 2013, when he had wrist surgery; and in 2014, when he held out while his agent negotiated a new deal with the Saints. So learning a new offense on the fly during a quarterback competition doesn’t intimidate him.
In fact, he said he chose to sign with the Bears because he thinks they can deliver the one thing his career has been missing.
“To me, this might be the most special time,” he said, “because I want to retire here, and this is where I want to end it. There’s only one way to end it. Hopefully, that’s winning that final game.”
Graham, who can be cut after this season with minimal penalty, already is thinking about the end. Even as he tries to keep it as far off as possible.
“When you play this game for a long time, you want to win the Super Bowl — that’s everybody’s goal,” Nagy said. “The longer you’re in this league and it doesn’t happen, the more you want it, I think, because you realize that Father Time ends up creeping up on all of us.
“So I just love that he’s in such great shape. I love where he’s at mentally. I love where he’s at as a mentor to these younger guys — and not just the tight ends.”