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Zach Miller was a Pro Bowl tight end at one time. Mind you, this was a time when the AFC had some pretty great pass-catching tight ends: Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark … I’m probably forgetting a guy or two, but you get the idea. You don’t just get handed a spot in the Pro Bowl, you’ve got to earn it. Here are his numbers while playing for the rush-heavy Oakland Raiders:
- 2007 – 44 catches for 444 yards and 3 TDs
- 2008 – 56 catches for 778 yards and 1 TD
- 2009 – 66 catches for 805 yards and 3 TDs
- 2010 – 60 catches for 685 yards and 5 TDs
Now, here are his stats with the Seahawks:
- 2011 – 25 catches for 233 yards and 0 TDs
People who aren’t really paying attention will look at all the data I’ve just provided, not to mention the contract it took to bring him in here (5 years, $34 million), and they’ll say, “Well, jeez, Zach Miller has been a huge disappointment.” And they wouldn’t be far off! Those NUMBERS … yes, they are disappointing to say the least. But, I beg you to dig a little deeper.
I know we’re all on Cloud 9 in Seattleland over the Seahawks’ second half performance last season. The offensive line really came together, Beastmode went Beastmode all over the rest of the NFL, we gave the 49ers’ defense their only rushing touchdown against, and the Skittles and the Skittles and the Skittles.
But, does anyone ever stop and reflect on the first half? Remember how our offensive line started two rookies on the right side? Remember how many sacks they allowed? Remember how it took all of Marshawn Lynch’s power to keep from being tackled for loss each and every time he ran the ball?
We were GREEN, people! Our O-Line was learning a new system, they were breaking in the rookies on the right side, a young-ish (injury-prone) tackle on the left side, and a center who – up until last year – was a guard. So, Zach Miller was brought in as a little extra security.
People look at the Gronks and the Jimmy Grahams of the NFL and all they see are catches and touchdowns galore. Most people don’t realize that there are different types of tight ends. You’ve got your blocking tight ends and you’ve got your pass-catching tight ends. Rare is the animal who is able and capable of doing both. Gronk and Graham are just slightly-oversized, slow wide receivers. Any wide receiver can throw his body at a defender’s legs and call that “blocking”. But, a real man will stand a defender up like a lineman and do the dirty trench work.
Zach Miller, we know, is a fantastic blocker. But, look at his numbers from his Raiders days. Granted, they may not be in the same Gronk stratosphere, but like I said before, you might as well forget the term “tight end” when you’re talking about Gronk. As you can plainly see, Zach Miller is easily capable of catching 60 balls for upwards of 600-700 yards. He’s just one year removed from being awesome, and that one year was spent almost exclusively helping out an O-Line that was just starting to get its feet wet!
Now, the O-Line gets it. This is Year Two under Tom Cable. Zach Miller will still be there to help out, because you don’t just forget about a blocking talent like Zach Miller when you need some extra yards on the ground. But, more often than not, Miller won’t be as necessary to pass-protect on the throwing downs. More often than not, Miller will be out there in open space, being a big pass-catching target for our quarterback to find for first downs.
Yes, the Seahawks brought in Kellen Winslow, but I’ll remind you that he’s built more in the Gronk-mold. He will line up out wide just as often as he does on the line. No one is expecting Winslow to give up his body in helping the O-Line. But, Zach Miller will still embody the element of surprise for a defense. Will he stay and block? Or, will one of our linebackers have to follow him around for 10 seconds in the open field? Can a linebacker hang with Zach Miller in the open field? Probably, but not before he’s got the ball in his hands as we’re moving the chains.
Zach Miller will make a big step forward this year. On the stat line and in the eyes of many Seahawks’ fans. Of course, there are still those of us who saw it coming. We’ll be there, waiting, with a ready “I told you so.”