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September 29, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Why the loss of Zach Miller hurts more than the stats suggest

RENTON — To appreciate the value of tight end Zach Miller is often to appreciate subtlety.

Marshawn Lynch drags defenders, Percy Harvin outruns them and Russell Wilson keeps them off balance. Miller? He’s neither electric nor much of a playmaker. But the Seahawks value Miller for the way he consistently does what they ask of him — a simple task in theory but one that is much harder to execute.

That’s a big part of what makes news of Miller missing time after undergoing a procedure on his ankle a blow for the Seahawks. The Foxsports.com report said Miller will be out “an extended period of time”, and that means the Seahawks will need to rely on Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet, two far less experienced players.

Miller is often talked about for the way he handles himself as a “pro” and for the way he “does his job.” But that really means he is dependable, and coach Pete Carroll gave an example earlier this season to illuminate the point.

In the first quarter of the Green Bay game, the Seahawks handed the ball off to Harvin, who took it around the edge outside. Miller was lined up along the line at tight end, and he quickly maneuvered to outflank the Packers’ safety and seal the edge for Harvin. Harvin gained 13 yards. Had Miller not made his block in space, Harvin might have gained half of that.

Carroll pointed to that block as a small example of the type of things Miller does consistently throughout a game.

“To make the right choice and the right decision he had a really key block on a terrific run by Percy out on the edge where a younger guy may have held on just a hair too long and drawn a foul,” Carroll said. “It’s as simple as it may sound, but his timing and feel for that was perfect so we get a 15-yard play instead of a penalty.

Those are the shoes Willson and Helfet will have to fill. Both are viewed more for their pass-catching abilities, and the Seahawks will likely miss Miller’s blocking most. Miller missed two games last year, so it’s not like the Seahawks haven’t dealt with this before. It’s also possible that the Seahawks use offensive tackles Alvin Bailey or Garry Gilliam as blocking tight ends, which they did at times last season.

Not surprisingly, the Seahawks played with more three- and four-receiver sets when Miller missed two games last season. With Miller out, Willson played 80 percent of Seattle’s offensive plays last season; he has played 27 percent of Seattle’s offensive snaps this season. Miller played his biggest role of the season against the Broncos, when he played 71 of 78 offensive snaps.

Either way the Seahawks will miss Miller’s dependability and experience. He has been with the Seahawks since 2011, and he spent time before that in Oakland learning Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme. He knows how everything works, all the ins and outs.

Miller has six catches this season for 76 yards, and his lack of production in those two areas the last couple of years has dropped significantly since his days in Oakland. But Carroll said he doesn’t look at Miller’s pass-catching numbers to judge how he plays.

“He knows everything he needs to know and he’ll execute it almost exactly right,” he said. “If he doesn’t, he fixes it the very next time. You just can count on him. He’s a responsible and accountable guy. He’s extremely valuable to us. We don’t look at anybody’s catches to determine how they are valued on this team. It’s everything they bring, and he’s a great example of that.”

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