One more win will gives Zach Miller two more firsts

Posted Dec 21, 2013

Zach Miller grew up in Phoenix and went to Arizona State, but the importance of Sunday’s game for the Seahawks’ tight end is wrapping up a division title not beating his hometown NFL team.

The significance of what the Seahawks can accomplish Sunday is significant to Zach Miller. The opponent is not.

Yes, Miller grew up in Phoenix and went to Arizona State University. Yes, the Seahawks are hosting the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field. But no, that is not Miller’s primary focus.

Winning the game is the primary focus for the seventh-year tight-end. Because of all the things he has done in the NFL, playing for a division champion is not one of them.

“Whoever it is, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Miller said. “It just happens to be the Cardinals.”

With a win over the Cardinals, the Seahawks will clinch the NFC West title, a bye in the first round of the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Miller, who entered the league in 2007 as second-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders, made his postseason debut with the Seahawks last season. He caught four passes for 48 yards as the Seahawks overcame a 14-point deficit to beat the Washington Redskins 24-14 in a wild-card game and then had an eight-catch, 142-yard game as the Seahawks stormed back from a 20-point deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead against the Atlanta Falcons only to lose 30-28 on a last-second field goal. But both those games were on the road.

So a home playoff game also would be another first for Miller, whose resume already includes going to the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season while with the Raiders; leading the Raiders in receptions in 2008 (56), 2009 (66) and 2010 (60); and signing a lucrative deal with the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent in 2011.

Of all the things Miller has been since joining the Seahawks, his consistency stands out. As a receiver. As a blocker in the running game as well as the passing game. The way he practices. The way he prepares. The way he plays.

Is there anything Miller can’t do?

“Man, I don’t know if he can sing. I don’t know, can he sing?” quarterback Russell Wilson joked when posed the question. “Zach is pretty good, man. He’s stepped up so much for us over and over again. He’s done a tremendous job for us this season.”

Miller has been as solid as his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame. He is fourth on the team with 29 receptions and tied for second with four TD catches. He lines up as a traditional tight-end, and with rookie Luke Willson in the two tight-end sets the Seahawks feature so much. You’ll find him in the slot, flanked to one side or the other and even lined up in the backfield.

And wherever he is, and whatever he’s doing, Miller is doing it consistently well.

“He’s tough as nail, first of all,” Wilson said. “He’s extremely bright. He understands the offense in and out. He understands the blocking schemes and the passing schemes and concepts. He just shows up every week for us, makes big plays.

“I think Zach is definitely a guy that we definitely need; a guy that’s one of those guys who’s just always there at the right time, the right place.”

It’s that rock-solid consistency. But where does that come from?

“I think every system I’ve been in, it’s one that kind of uses that versatility in the tight end position,” Miller said. “So that’s always been a natural fit for me, and that comes from being able to do all those things well – pass block, run block and being a receiver.

“And when you can do all those things, you fit well into an offensive system that kind of uses the tight end in different aspects.”

Miller was not a pass blocker at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, where he was the No. 1 tight end prospect in the nation because of his ability to use that big body to shield defenders and deceptive speed to run past them; and also named the state’s best linebacker.

“I really learned to block well in college,” he said. “My college coach really focused on that and we ran a pro-style offense, so I think that helped. And we were a two-tight end system. We didn’t even have a fullback. So the tight end was huge in being able to do a lot of those things, so I had to learn some of the fullback stuff, learn some of the tight end stuff right off the bat.”

When Miller joined the Raiders, Tom Cable was the offensive line coach and later became the head coach. Cable is now the assistant head coach/offensive line coach/run-game coordinator for the Seahawks, and he was instrumental in bringing Miller to Seattle.

“Getting a chance to be in the same run system for that long, you know the ins and outs of it. You know what to expect. You know what adjustments we like to make,” Miller said. “The same way in the pass-protection game. Using the tight end, I think, really complements our offense.

“That’s stuff I try to pride myself on and be on top of everything with it.”

If things go the right way Sunday, against a certain opponent from Arizona, Miller will be on top of it in a different way for the first time in his NFL career.