Bengals prepare for matchup nightmare Jimmy Graham

CINCINNATI -- Emmanuel Lamur has played basketball.

But there's a reason he's now a football player.

His sporting profession won't matter much at the Superdome on Sunday, though, but he probably still might have to pull out a few hardcourt tricks as he spends much of the afternoon covering New Orleans Saints pass-catching phenom Jimmy Graham. The tight end who spent four years of college playing Division I basketball is a veritable matchup nightmare.

Graham's 56 receptions this season tie him for seventh in the league among all pass-catchers. His seven touchdowns is tied for ninth.

Lamur did't want admit that he would be doing his share of boxing out and leaping while trying to prevent jump-balls downfield, but he did concede that he will have arguably the biggest challenge he's had in a year full of them.

"He's Graham," Lamur said, smiling as he was asked about what made the tight end so special. "He's like a dinosaur. He's so big. He's a tall guy."

At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Graham is slightly bigger than most tight ends. Pound-for-pound, most defensive ends and many outside linebackers would be ideal to cover him. But then factor in Graham's penchant for going up for jump balls downfield. Maybe that's when a safety would be best to cover him. But then again, he is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.

Even with his T-Rex-like size, Graham runs like a greyhound. His long, purposeful strides get him in the back of a secondary quickly, meaning cornerbacks could be good options for covering him. But again, he's 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.

"You don't want to get in those situations," said 5-foot-11 Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, one of several defensive backs who could spend a play or two on Graham. "He's a big body so if you get up on him, a lot of the time, it would be jump-ball type of situations where he can reach up for the ball and you can't reach your short arms in there. You have to play a little differently. I can't say exactly how, but you have to be smart."

Because of his combination of athletic ability, size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and recent experiences, Lamur is the best option for consistently playing Graham. After covering the likes of Dennis Pitta, Delanie Walker, Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen, Lamur has already gone through a pass-catching tight end gauntlet.

But he has struggled. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the four tight ends caught a combined 28 passes for 339 yards, three touchdowns and 18 first downs with Lamur on the field. Only one 11-yard, first-down pass was caught by Olsen with Lamur not in the game.

Lamur, playing in his first full season as a starter, still believes he has discovered the best way to play such challenging receivers: be just as physical as they are, if not more.

"You have to put a hand on those guys," Lamur said. "You can't let them get free releases. That's where they make their bread and butter. You just have to have collisions."

With respect to defending Graham specifically, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther broke it down even simpler.

"He's got to cover him," Guenther said. "Point blank."