Zach Miller displaying just how valuable he is

Posted Jun 28, 2013

With Anthony McCoy out after tearing an Achilles tendon, rookie Luke Willson and second-year tight end Sean McGrath are showing they have what it takes to fill the No. 2 spot behind starter Zach Miller.

If anything was apparent during the 2013 offseason, the OTA practices underlined just how good – not to mention versatile and valuable – Zach Miller is.

The Seahawks signed Miller, a Pro Bowl tight end with the Oakland Raiders, as a free agent just after the 136-day lockout ended in 2011. But his 66- and 60-catch seasons with the Raiders in 2009 and 2010 seemed like a mirage that first season in Seattle, when Miller caught 25 passes with just re-signed quarterback Tarvaris Jackson playing most of the season with a damaged pectoral in his passing shoulder.

Last season, Miller’s reception total grew to 38 during the regular season and he then added 12 more in two postseason games as rookie quarterback Russell Wilson matured as the season progressed – and the entire offense along with him.

The capper to Miller’s second season with the Seahawks came in the divisional playoff game against the Falcons in Atlanta. He caught eight passes for 142 yards and a touchdown – after tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot on the Seahawks’ first series.

“It took a while (to recover from that injury),” Miller said. “Really, right when the offseason program started (in April) is when I started feeling good again.”


Tight ends on the 90-man roster: 6

Tight ends carried on the 53-man roster last season: 3, with one on the practice squad

Incumbent starter: Zach Miller

Incumbent backup: Sean McGrath

On the practice squad last year: Cooper Helfet

Draft choice: Luke Willson (fifth round)

Free agents signed: Darren Fells, Victor Marshall

Keep an eye on: Willson. As the coaches have been saying since they selected the Canadian-born tight end in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft, Willson has the speed to present an element that’s been missing from the passing game at the tight end position. He also has to show that he can block at this level, and that won’t happen until August in the preseason games. McGrath also will be in the mix to make the roster, in part, because Marshall was a wide receiver in college, while Fells was a basketball player.

But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell likes to feature two-tight end packages, so the question is: Who steps in, and steps up, after the loss of incumbent No. 2 Anthony McCoy to a ruptured Achilles tendon in the team’s first OTA session?

Luke Willson was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, and his speed provides an element that has been missing from the tight end position. Sean McGrath, who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad last year, has blossomed during his first full offseason with the team.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Miller said. “We’re going to miss Anthony, definitely, but we’ve just got to step up.”

Miller’s value was only underlined as he sat out this month’s minicamp with a sore left foot. Here’s his take on the two tight ends who stepped in for him, and need to take the steps in replacing McCoy:

On Willson: “He’s ready to learn. He listens to everything. He’s asking questions. He’s exactly how you want your rookie to be. He was making plays out here.  It’s what he’s got to do to be our second tight end. … He has that speed that he can separate from guys pretty easily. He’s going to be a weapon for us on offense.”

On McGrath: “He does a lot of things real well. He’s a little better in the run game right now and he has really good hands. He’s come along, definitely, a lot from being a rookie into his second year here. And he even got a little game action. So he has a little bit of experience with how our run game works.”

The best word to describe Miller? Solid, perhaps, and not just because of his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame. He rarely misses an assignment, whether blocking for Marshawn Lynch or working to get open for Wilson. He is faster than he looks, as well as more deceptive. He can find and exploit seams in zone coverage, and use his body to shield smaller defenders in man-to-man coverage.

Tight ends coach Pat McPherson agrees with the “solid” assessment, but doesn’t stop there.

“Zach goes way above and beyond solid,” McPherson said. “He meets those criteria, really, just showing up. He just prepares himself so well for everything he does. I like to call him the consummate pro, because he prepares not only mentally, he prepares his body.

“He’s just good. He’s got really good hands. He’s a tough dude (see his efforts in the Falcons’ game). And he’s just really smart, and football smart.”

The solid way Miller approaches everything will be even more of a factor this season because the Seahawks will be so young at the tight end position.

“Zach has always been kind of a leader by example – by how hard he works and the things that he does on the field and the toughness he displays,” McPherson said. “But this has given him an opportunity to really reach out to those young guys – Sean and Luke, and even Darren (Fells) and Victor (Marshall) – and say, ‘Hey, this is the way you should be doing things.’

“It’s what you want from your veteran guy. You kind of expect that. And Zach is doing that.”