RENTON, Wash. – Zach Miller’s hands have caught more than just the NFL’s attention.
He is one of only four tight ends in the league with 50 or more receptions in each of the three past seasons. Just don’t say Miller’s hands are soft. That’s simply not possible for a tight end, whose job description requires him to block the big uglies along the defensive line one play, and then catch a pass the next.
“You have the lineman hands,” Miller said, holding his out for display. “The swollen knuckles and the bloody fingers, peeled back nails.”
Miller wouldn’t have it any other way. Blocking is a part of the job he embraces, and his ability in that regard is part of the reason Seattle ponied up the five-year, $34-million contract to lure him away from the Oakland Raiders as an unrestricted free agent.
Miller was the cherry on top of Seattle’s free-agent sundae, a finishing touch so to speak. Sidney Rice was the kind of top-shelf receiver Seattle had been desiring to acquire for more than a year. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and left guard Robert Gallery filled glaring vacancies in the starting lineup.
Tight end was different. John Carlson was the established starter, and while his 2010 season was a disappointment, he caught more passes in each of his first two seasons with the team than any other tight end in franchise history.
But at age 25, Miller is younger and not only regarded as a stronger blocker and a more prolific receiver, but he had four years of experience playing under Tom Cable, the Seahawks’ new offensive-line coach.
“Zach is an on-the-line blocker that can really hold his own and do a nice job,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He knows all of our schemes and our principles, all of the movement stuff we do.”
On a rebuilding team with lots of questions and relatively little experience, tight end just might be the strength of the 2011 Seahawks. There are 18 different tight ends in this league who have totaled more than 130 catches over the past three seasons in the NFL, and the Seahawks are the only team in the league employing two of them.
Carlson was one of the bigger disappointments of last year’s team. His year began with Pro Bowl expectations but ended with a career-low 31 catches.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t get him the football more,” Carroll said. “Not because of John, but because of us. I didn’t think we did a good enough job.”
Carlson has not practiced since Saturday because of a shoulder injury, which Carroll described as a labrum issue. It’s unlikely Carlson will play in Saturday’s preseason game against Minnesota. Carlson’s long-term role in Seattle remains an open question as he is unsigned beyond 2011. Seattle’s coach has been insistent the team has plans for Carlson this year.
Seattle has more than just two options at the position. Anthony McCoy – Seattle’s sixth-round pick last year – is an effective end-line blocker who’s growing as a receiver, while Dominique Byrd has become a name to know this training camp. Byrd, a former third-round pick from USC, has shown great quickness and agility as a receiver.
“There’s nothing we can’t do,” Carroll said.
“I think we have a very versatile group right now.”