SEATTLE – When tight end Will Heller arrived in Seattle in spring 2006, he came with a reputation for being a solid blocker and a good understanding of the West Coast offense.
One thing Heller didn’t bring was an end-zone dance.
After catching just 15 passes and scoring three touchdowns in three NFL seasons, Heller was about as likely a red-zone target as a linebacker.
Less than two years later, Heller is the Seahawks’ version of Mike Vrabel.
“It’s just one of those things. I’ve had opportunities to have the ball thrown my way, and it’s worked out,” said Heller, who has three touchdown catches in the past three games. “It’s been fun, I’ll tell you that. I hope we can keep it up.”
Heller still isn’t a major focus of Seattle’s offense, having caught just 10 passes in his 25 games with the Seahawks. But four of those receptions have gone for touchdowns. This year, he has scored more times than teammate Shaun Alexander, and even Vrabel, the New England linebacker who occasionally lines up on offense in the red zone.
Yet Heller still doesn’t have an end-zone dance.
“I took a little heat for that today,” Heller said Monday night, after celebrating his 1-yard TD reception by handing the ball to someone in the crowd. “I just gave the ball to a fan, figuring maybe I’d make a donation and get a little tax write-off.”
Wide receiver Nate Burleson, who takes pride in his creative celebrations, said Heller’s lack of originality is apropos.
“He could spice it up a little bit, but what he does matches his personality,” Burleson said. “The guy walks around like a funeral-home director. He’s quiet, doesn’t say much. He might laugh every once in a while, but that’s about it.”
That’s not the only thing about Heller that catches people off guard. The quiet, 6-foot-6, 270-pound giant looks more like an offensive lineman than a tight end, and for most of his life he has played like it.
While at Georgia Tech, Heller caught just 17 total passes, including six his senior year. He scored only one touchdown there, then matched that total with a TD on one of his two receptions during his rookie year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Heller caught only a single TD pass in each of his first four NFL seasons, helping to cultivate the reputation that he’s a glorified lineman who blocks well but doesn’t need to catch the ball.
“It’s something I’ve heard my whole career,” Heller said. “It’s not something I let get to me. I take pride in my blocking, so it’s never been an issue. We’ve had some situations where I’ve been able to get open and make some plays. But I don’t let any (labels) get to me.”
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is among those players who have been surprised by Heller’s dependability as a receiver. With Alexander and the running game struggling, and starting tight end Marcus Pollard hobbled by a knee injury, Heller has emerged as the big red-zone target the Seahawks were missing.
“In this league, teams want to concentrate on someone: the go-to guy or the person who’s going to hurt them in the next game,” Burleson said. “But Will, he’s been creeping behind the curtain, quietly putting in work.
“The thing is, pretty soon teams are going to start focusing on him. So he’s got to slow down a little bit.”
If Heller keeps it up, he might have to come up with an end-zone dance. But he said he still doesn’t have anything planned.