Willson ready to step in, step up as the Seahawks’ starting tight end

Sep 30, 2014, 9:29 PM | Updated: 10:17 pm
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Second-year tight end Luke Willson (82) will assume a starting role while Zach Miller recovers from ankle surgery. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. (AP)
(82)

Ask coach Pete Carroll which 2013 Seahawks rookie showed the most growth over the course of his first season and he’d undoubtedly say Luke Willson.

Ask him about the players that did the most to improve during this past offseason and he’d most likely start with Seattle’s second-year tight end.

Willson has a chance to show how much he’s developed now that he’s stepping in for injured starter Zach Miller.

“I know I’ve got to kinda come in and step up and I’ll be counted on a little more than I have been the last couple weeks, but I’m looking forward to it,” Willson told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Tuesday.

Miller is
expected to miss several weeks after undergoing ankle surgery, leaving Willson and Cooper Helfet as Seattle’s healthy tight ends for the time being. Carroll said that while the Seahawks have kicked the tires on several temporary reinforcements, the team’s preference would be to stick with its in-house options, suggesting Seattle is comfortable with Willson assuming a starting role.

“Luke’s done a really good job. He’s going to obviously play a ton now. It’s really a great opportunity for him to step up,” Carroll said. “He’s improved in every area. He’s one of those young guys that has really just gotten a ton better since he’s been with us. He’s stronger and he’s faster than he was a year ago because of the offseason, so in every way he’s improved.

“This is a lot to ask of him, though. It’s the first time he’ll have this kind of duty, but it’s his turn to step up.”

Willson was coming off a senior season at Rice in which he caught only nine passes when Seattle chose him in the fifth round, general manager John Schneider saying the Seahawks were so enticed by his down-field speed that they were determined to draft him despite his underwhelming numbers.

Willson caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown last season. He has just one catch on a single target this season, but he figures to get more opportunities now that he’s Seattle’s No. 1 option at tight end.

But perhaps just as important than what Willson contributes as a pass-catcher will be his blocking, something that has made Miller an unsung hero on Seattle’s offense the last three seasons. While that’s not something Willson has been known for, he believes it’s an area in which he has improved.

“A lot of people say blocking is just like a mindset or an effort thing – maybe when you’re younger, but at this level there’s a lot of technique and a lot of angles and all sorts of things that … are involved in it,” he said. “For me, I just feel like learning this offense and learning how to attack certain run plays that we have was an experience thing and I really feel like I’m coming along pretty well.”

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Willson ready to step in, step up as the Seahawks’ starting tight end