Depth, and diversity

Posted Aug 25, 2011

The Seahawks already had a strong group of tight ends and only added to the mix – as well as their deceptive options – by signing Pro Bowler Zach Miller and Dominique Byrd in free agency.

Discussing the depth, diverse talents and athleticism of the Seahawks’ tight ends with Gus Bradley starts with a couple of chicken-or-the-egg responses.

Which comes first? The shaking of the head, furrowed brow and widening of the eyes? Or the broad smile, oh-man body language and widening of the eyes?

As the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, Bradley cringes at the thought of devising ways to contend with Zach Miller. And John Carlson. And Anthony McCoy. And Dominique Byrd. And, eventually, Cameron Morrah. Suffice it to say, Bradley is very happy he doesn’t have to do it – except in practice.

“They’re all so athletic,” Bradley said. “They have the ability to catch the ball. Good blockers. They can really create issues for you as a defense.

“Sometimes you can kind of forget about those tight ends, but you can’t forget about them on our team.”

The Seahawks already had a formidable trio in Carlson, Morrah and McCoy. They only added to the depth and diversity at the position by signing Miller in free agency last month and Byrd to a future contract in January.

How good is this group? “It’s a great group of tight ends. They’re definitely an athletic group; talented and guys who can make plays,” said Miller, who was voted to the AFC West Pro Bowl squad last season when he caught 60 passes for the Oakland Raiders.

Now he’s in Seattle, having followed former teammate Robert Gallery and former coach Tom Cable up the coast. The coaches will use Miller in tandem with Carlson to supply tough-to-defend options in both the passing and running game – once Carlson returns from the labrum injury he got while diving for a pass in practice on Aug. 13.

“Those guys will play together, in tandem,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ll be on opposite sides, and we’ll be moving them around for matchups and all kinds of stuff. It’ll be a great asset for us.”

With Miller and Carlson on the field at the same time, the Seahawks can show two-tight personnel in the huddle – leading the defense to believe it will be a running play – only to lineup in a four-receiver set once they break the huddle by slotting or even flanking the “blocker” with split end Mike Williams and flanker Sidney Rice.

“It makes it tough on a (defensive) play-caller, that’s for sure, just because they can line up outside or inside the receivers,” Bradley said. “They can determine whether you’re in man or zone coverage real quick and get to matchup they want.

“There are a lot of little hidden games you can play when you’ve got two tight ends like John and Zach.”

But there’s even more to the position than the tantalizing tandem of Carlson and Miller – or Miller and Carlson, if you will. There’s the size and on-line blocking ability of McCoy, a sixth-round draft choice last year who played for Carroll at USC. There’s Byrd’s ability to separate from defenders while running precise routes. There’s the large upside of Morrah, a seventh-round draft choice in 2009 who is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason toe surgery.

“If we’re healthy, we’re about as good as there is out there,” said Pat McPherson, the assistant coach in charge of this impressive collection. “I’m pretty excited about it.”

Here’s a closer look at this glut-of-talent group:

Zach Miller (6-5, 255, fifth season) – If Carlson is the boy next door – as he’s been described because of his All-American looks and Wally Cleaver personality – then Miller is the boy who lives next door to Carlson.

As productive as Miller was last season, he had an even better 2009 (66 catches for 805 yards) and his ’08 season wasn’t too shabby either (56 for 778). But Miller can do more than catch a lot of passes. A lot more.

“That’s what people have to realize about Zach, he is a very complete player,” said Cable, the Raiders head coach the past three seasons. “He’s going to be able to block off the line of scrimmage. You can move him around, he can block every effectively that way. You can split him out. He can do all the crack blocks. He can play the one-on-one matchup game in the passing game.”

John Carlson (6-5, 251, fourth season) – He already has set the franchise records at the position for receptions (55 in 2008), receiving yards (627 in ’08) and touchdown catches (seven in 2009), and was voted to the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.

But since he joined Steve Largent (1976) as the only rookies in club history to lead the team in receptions and receiving yards, Carlson’s numbers have diminished: 51 for 574 in 2009 and 31 for 318 in 2010.

Asked if he was disappointed in Carlson’s production last season, Carroll said, “I was disappointed that we didn’t get him the football more, not because of John. I don’t think we did a good enough job, and it was the guy we went into camp (last year) thinking we were going to feature.”

Anthony McCoy (6-5, 259, second season) – The first thing the coaches mention when discussing McCoy is his blocking, but he has caught a touchdown pass in each of the first two preseason games and shares the team lead with six receptions.

“Anthony, for certain, has done a great job this training camp,” McPherson said. “He’s played well in both games. He’s much improved from last year. He came in with something to prove and he’s done a nice job.”

Dominique Byrd (6-3, 255, third season) – Like McCoy, Byrd played for Carroll at USC. He was selected in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, but released after the 2007 season. He was out of the league in 2008, then signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. Released in November of that year, Byrd went to camp with the Cardinals last summer before being released again.

This summer, he also has six catches in the first two preseason games.

“Dominique has been a pleasant surprise,” McPherson said. “He’s kind of filled in the cracks, so to speak. He’s done a nice job running routes for us and catching the ball.”

Cameron Morrah (6-3, 251, third season) – He was the No. 3 tight end last season, behind Carlson and since-released Chris Baker. Morrah caught nine passes last season and four more in the playoffs. He is deceptively fast, a trait Morrah uses to stretch the field by getting open up the seams.

“I haven’t even seen Cameron play yet,” Miller said. “But I’ve heard good things about him.”

And Carroll can say only good things about the entire group. “It’s a very strong position for us and one that we’re kind of growing with as we see them display the kinds of things that they can do,” he said.

The worst part of all this? There likely are only three spots for tight ends on the 53-man roster. But whichever threesome is it, “You can really do some fun things,” McPherson said.

Or as Miller put it, “You can create mismatches, and that’s what the NFL is.”