Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan can learn from his long afternoon last December against massive Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski as he prepares to play another giant, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, on Sunday.
Gronkowski is 6-6, 265 pounds; Graham weighs the same and is an inch taller. They were the only tight ends with double-digit touchdown receptions or 1,000 receiving yards last season.
Their size and athleticism creates nightmare matchups for defenses, but Kerrigan is determined to improve on last year’s game against Gronkowski, in which Gronkowski had a season-high 160-receiving yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.
“You want to be physical at the line because he is a taller guy,” Kerrigan said of Graham. “You don’t want to let him off the line because once he does, he gets out in the open, and when the ball is up in the air, nine times out of 10 he’s going to come down with it.”
The Saints of course, try to counter any physicality against Graham by where they position him on the field.
“He’s usually inside but they split him out a lot because, a receiving threat like that with his height, you want him down the middle of the field exposing matchups,” Kerrigan said. “He’s probably faster than a lot of linebackers, bigger than a lot of DBs, definitely a guy that they try to exploit.”
Overall, Kerrigan is more confident about his coverage ability this season because of his familiarity with his responsibilities. Last year was his first season transitioning from defensive end, so coverage concepts took some getting used to.
“You just look on film from last year to this year, and last year I’m just shaking my head, like, ‘What was I doing,’” Kerrigan said. “I know this year what I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to be doing it. I feel so much more comfortable.”