When Houston Texans rookie tight end Garrett Graham caught a pass and ran up the middle of the field in Saturday’s practice, thousands of fans cheered.
"Not sure I deserved all that, but it sure was nice," Graham said. "I’m just trying to work my way in and contribute to the team in any way I can."
For most rookies, it takes a spectacular play to get a reaction from the crowd, simply because the fans keep a close eye on the well-known starters rather than the newcomers. But Graham is an exception to the rule because he’s temporarily filling the shoes and playing in the shadow of starter and fan favorite Owen Daniels.
It’s hard to ignore the similarities.
Daniels (6-3, 243) is a tight end in his fifth season as a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin. Graham (6-3, 241) is a tight end in his first season as a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin.
When the Texans drafted Graham in April, Daniels was one of the first people to enter his mind when thinking about his new franchise. The two knew each other when Graham was a redshirt freshman and Daniels was a senior at Wisconsin.
"I always try to help out the younger guys, but we have a different connection," Daniels said. "We had a previous relationship, and I’ve kept in touch with him over the years. We’re a little more comfortable with each other because we knew each other before."
Graham has had the good fortune of walking into an apprenticeship with one of the most successful tight ends in the NFL over the past few seasons. Daniels has been rehabilitating his surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament in camp, but he’s often on the sideline, giving Graham advice.
"He’s right there every play," Graham said. "If I have a question about technique or something, he’s there to explain things to me every play. He’s been a huge help for me so far, and I’ve been really thankful for all the help he’s been giving me."
With Daniels and Anthony Hill on the physically unable to perform list, Graham has split time with current starter Joel Dreessen and backup James Casey. Graham said adjusting to the system has been a learning process, and he has been working on learning the offensive playbook.
"He’s working hard, but it’s tough," Daniels said. "As a tight end in this offense, they throw so many things at you in so many different spots."
Daniels said he has developed a respect for the rookie because of how he handles his business off the field. Because they emerged from an offensive system at Wisconsin that focuses on similar offensive strategies, Daniels has helped Graham in his understanding of the offense.
Daniels’ receiving talents at Wisconsin paved the way for later tight ends such as Graham to have a more active role in the offense than he did. Now that the tight end has become a major part of the Texans’ offense, some people think Graham might have the talent to step into Daniels’ role eventually.
For now, Daniels is still the man at tight end for the Texans as long as he stays healthy. But his contract is up at the end of the season, and the Texans have plenty of tight ends on the roster. Graham and James Casey are worth watching in keeper leagues, because they could be intriguing players if Daniels plays for a different team in the future.