By Danny O’Neil
In Zach Miller’s first two seasons as a Seahawk, he had the two lowest receiving totals of pro his career.
In his final game of the 2012 season, he had the single most productive game of his six years in the NFL.
Which of those is the most accurate weather vane for Miller’s 2013 season? The answer to that question will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about Seattle’s productivity at tight end, because on a team notable for its depth, tight end is unquestionably the shallow end of the pool.
Miller is the only tight end on the Seahawks’ roster who has ever caught a pass in an NFL regular-season game. That’s not to say he’s the only capable player on the roster, as there’s a couple of aspiring youngsters who have experience with the team, one extremely fast draft pick and a guy attempting to transition from basketball.
Danny O’Neil looks at where the Seahawks stand at each position group heading into training camp.
There’s one guy missing from that equation though: Anthony McCoy. Seattle’s sixth-round pick in 2010, he was someone who was puzzlingly inconsistent but undeniably talented, but the injury he suffered to his Achilles tendon this offseason knocked him out for the year and put a serious crimp in Seattle’s plans.
This team has been trying to field a potent combination punch at tight end for years now. The Seahawks signed Miller two years ago from Oakland with the intention of pairing him with John Carlson, only to have Carlson suffer a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp. A year later, Kellen Winslow was the new arrival only to have Seattle decide — eight days before the regular-season opener — he wasn’t worth a $3.3 million salary.
This year, there’s more inexperience than expectation at tight end.
Sean McGrath played his way onto the 53-man roster for the final two regular-season games of last season as an undrafted rookie, while fifth-round pick Luke Willson was circled by Seattle general manager John Schneider as one of the prospects he was most adamant about the Seahawks picking in the draft.
There’s also some intriguing uncertainty in guys like Darren Fells, a converted basketball pro who hasn’t played football in quite some time and Victor Marshall, a Juanita High School grad who played college football in Canada. Cooper Helfet rounds out the training-camp roster at the position that is the single biggest concern on the depth chart entering the season, and a spot where the team is looking to upgrade itself with a veteran.
The lock: Zach Miller.
He was considered a coup in 2011, a player the Seahawks signed as an unrestricted free agent after he had caught 60 or more passes in two consecutive seasons with Oakland. Well, he has caught 63 passes — total — in his two years in Seattle. Now, that’s a reflection of his role in Seattle, which called for him to help more in pass protection, especially in 2011. Then came the playoffs, which started with Miller catching four passes in Washington followed up by eight catches for a career-high 142 yards in Atlanta. Was that an exceptional game or a sign of things to come for the tight end as Seattle’s offense matures?
Seem safe: Sean McGrath, Luke Willson.
Willson is the fastest tight end on the depth chart, and that speed stood out in the offseason workouts. What’s he like as a blocker, though? That remains to be seen, and it will determine whether Willson is a third tight end used primarily as a deep threat or someone who could be the No. 2 tight end on the roster.
McGrath is well-rounded, and he also has the old-school touch of taping his fingers instead of wearing gloves. Undrafted out of Henderson State in Arkansas last year, McGrath finished the season as Seattle’s No. 3 tight end last year after Evan Moore was released.
Long shots: Victor Marshall, Darren Fells, Cooper Helfet.
Marshall is from the area, played college football in Canada and was one of two players to attend the regional scouting combine at Seahawks headquarters that were signed by the team. Helfet is entering his second season after college, and his biggest action has come in catching passes for Peyton Manning while the quarterback was working out at Duke last year. Fells has not played football since high school, instead playing basketball in college at Cal State-Fullerton and then heading overseas for a pro career. While players like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham have successfully switched sports, it’s probably not realistic to think Fells will have an impact this year.