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Luke Willson ready to step in as Seahawks’ starting tight end

Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – When Seahawks tight end Luke Willson returned to his native Lasalle, Ontario, last week with Seattle heading into a bye, he took with him something of a secret.

After Seattle’s 26-20 win over Denver, starting tight end Zach Miller told Willson of his continuing struggles with a painful ankle and plans to have surgery.

As was revealed Monday, Miller had surgery last week. And that means that for at least two games, if not longer, Willson becomes the team’s starting tight end, beginning with Seattle’s visit to Washington on Monday night.

“So I’ve been thinking about it for a little while, being at home taking care of myself and mentally kind of getting ready,” Willson said.

It’s a role he’s had before. Willson was the starter last year when Miller was out with a hamstring injury for games against Indianapolis and Tennessee.

“I don’t really feel like I’m entering new territory,” Willson said.

He does, though, feel like a different player than a year ago.

Then, he was a rookie fifth-round pick with a reputation for having above-average speed for a tight end but raw blocking skills.

Now, he’s put on “six or seven pounds” and has a better understanding of the finer aspects of blocking, the aspect of Miller’s game the Seahawks might miss the most.

“Night and day,” Willson said of the difference from his rookie season. “Especially when it comes to recognizing defensive fronts and just being comfortable with technique, especially in the run game. … I think from when I first got here I’ve made a lot of strides. For me, it’s one of those things where I’ve just got to run my feet after contact. I feel like I’ve really improved and I’ve done a pretty good job.”

No one questions Willson’s ability to make an impact as a receiver, even if it’s been somewhat muted this season. Willson, who had 20 receptions last season, has just one this year for one yard. Working in a healthy Percy Harvin – who has 21 touches through three games – could be one reason the ball hasn’t gone to the second tight end as much this year.

Willson, though, calls it “just one of those things. Some of the games have worked out that way and, you know, I’ve just got to be patient. I always feel like maybe my time is coming.”

Probably Monday. Willson has played 53 snaps through the first three games – he played 60 and 61 in the two games he started in place of Miller last season.

And Miller, much to Willson’s amazement, played 71 in the win over Denver. “Pretty remarkable,” Willson said. “… I saw him out there struggling, but he was fighting. And he’ll be back this year and I’ve got to hold down the fort until he comes back.”

Changing shoes works

Safety Kam Chancellor confirmed that he considered having surgery on his ankle after struggling through the San Diego game. But he said a change in shoes the following week – specifically, from low tops to mid-tops – has made a big difference.

“We found some ways to get around it, some ways to get better comfort, and I feel better now,” said Chancellor, who referred to having pain in both ankles. “I feel good.”

Good enough that he said he now has “no concerns at all” about his ankles.

Chancellor had surgery to repair bone spurs following the 2012 season but said his ankles had not been an issue until the week of the San Diego game, saying “starting that Tuesday before that game, they started hurting a little bit.”

Chancellor also battled cramps against San Diego. But he came back to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the win over Denver and has taken part in practice this week as the team returned from its bye.

Gilliam third option

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said that the team will go with what it has in replacing Miller while he is out. That means Cooper Helfet will be the backup to Willson.

And should the team need a third tight end? Then it could turn to tackle Garry Gilliam, who played tight end at Penn State until he was a senior, making eight catches in his career, before moving to tackle.

Gilliam brushed off his receiving skills by running a few routes in practice.

“I weigh a little bit more,” said Gilliam, listed now at 305, about 30 pounds more than his tight end days. “But I still have the quickness I need to run the routes they want me to do.”

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