"I was always trying to change the image and not to be called a basketball player anymore, so that's an honor that he says that he just knows me as Jimmy Graham the tight end. That's pretty cool."
When asked about the success both he and Gates had making the transition from basketball to football with Brees as their pro quarterback, Graham was not about to dismiss it as mere coincidence.
Graham said that from the moment he arrived at Saints headquarters, Brees would talk to him about the success he had in San Diego with Gates.
"He said, 'Listen, I remember where Gates was when he first got into the league and I was there for his first start. And I'm going to work with you every day. I'm going to work with you as much as I can so that we can try to get that connection because I think you're going to be a special player. You're a special athlete and I believe in you,'" Graham recalled.
"So that was my first day of work. I remember he always used to just compare certain things to Gates and how I should do things — you know, 'Gatesy did this and Gatesy did that.' I heard that like every other day."
When Philip Rivers took over for Brees as San Diego's starter in 2006, he, too, quickly came to rely on Gates, and said he's not surprised the Saints looked to help Brees develop a similar target in New Orleans.
"You really see how the basketball benefits them ... in this game at that position from a route-running standpoint, body position and I know I've certainly thrown Gates a lot of high balls he's gone up and gotten," Rivers said. "I've seen Drew do the same to Graham. I've seen him go up and get a bunch of balls and obviously his body position and ability to go up and do that gives us confidence to throw those types of balls that otherwise you might not throw."
Notes: Five Saints players sat out Thursday's practice: WR Lance Moore (right hamstring), DT Brodrick Bunkley (illness), DE Turk McBride (left ankle), LB David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and RB Travaris Cadet (right shoulder). S Roman Harper (right hip) and LB Jonathan Casillas (neck) were limited.
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AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this story.