RENTON — If you’ve ever been curious about who might be the Seattle Seahawks’ backup long snapper, it’s tight end Zach Miller.
Miller appears to be proficient at the somewhat arcane exercise.
But that should not be surprising since Miller makes a habit of bringing excellence to all his duties, as he’s considering one of the team’s best blockers, surest receivers, and most reliable at executing his assignments.
And he’s doing all this for the 2014 Seahawks under a restructured contract that benefited the team’s salary cap situation.
If you think he might be inclined, after taking a pay cut, to be somewhat less dutiful, you haven’t seen how Miller has operated the last three seasons with Seattle.
“He’s done nothing but get better, and he’s working just as hard as he ever has,” said Pat McPherson, Seahawks tight end coach. “He studies his tail off and he takes more notes than anybody. He’s always driven to get better.”
Scheduled to make $5.8 million in 2014, he’s now going to make $3 million in each of the next two seasons, with incentives added.
He said afterward that it was never a question of going anywhere else, just a question of how to get the numbers figured out so he could stay here.
It’s logical to expect Miller to earn every penny. Last season he pulled in five touchdown passes, matching the team lead in that category with wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
He’s also come up large when the Hawks were in the greatest need, leading their comeback against Atlanta in the 2012 playoffs with eight catches for 142 yards.
But when he arrived in Seattle in 2011 after making the 2010 Pro Bowl with the Raiders, the Hawks didn’t need a pass-catching tight end. They needed Miller to act like a third tackle and stay in and protect the passer.
He went from 60 catches in Oakland to 25 with the Hawks.
“That first-year transition was something,” Miller recalled. “We were so young at O-line, I think it was the youngest combined starts in the league. That always makes coaches nervous, so it wasn’t a problem when they asked me to stay in and block.
“I like going against those premier defensive ends in this league and outside linebackers … it’s a real challenge,” he said. “If it’s a tough job for the great left tackles, it’s that much tougher for a tight end who’s so much lighter. But I take pride in being able to do that.”
In the Seahawks’ second preseason game against San Diego, Miller wiped out the entire backside of the Chargers’ defensive line to clear a broad cut-back lane for tailback Robert Turbin to motor 47 yards on a breakaway run.
“He’ll do whatever it takes for the team,” McPherson said of Miller. “You go back to when he was a Pro Bowl guy with the Raiders and caught a good number of balls. Sure, he’d like to get 60-70 catches — and he absolutely could — but that first year we needed help with protection. He’s always been a fine run blocker, but he’s taken that to another level. He’s just very football savvy in everything he does.”
When he hears that McPherson labeled him a “pro’s pro,” Miller nodded, acknowledging that’s one of his goals.
“I try to be the smartest football player I can be, trying to understand more every year,” he said. “I try to find something to improve on and never be complacent. This year, it’s trying to see the full defense more and anticipate what they’re trying to do.”
It’s a good thing he’s learning more about defensive schemes — it apparently comes in handy when plotting strategy with his wife on handling their twin daughters, Kaydence and Remi.
“They’re a handful and they’re definitely wearing us out,” he said, noting that with twins, parents can’t defend them with a “zone” approach. “They’ll exploit you by taking off in different directions. So you have to have two-on-two at all times.”
It’s likely that Miller would volunteer for any extra fatherhood duties that are necessary, just as he does with the Seahawks on the punt team.
“That’s how it is here, you see defensive starters going down on kickoff coverage,” Miller said. “It shows you our guys aren’t afraid to put it on the line on special teams whenever they’re asked.”
Thus far, he hasn’t been asked to step in for long snapper Clint Gresham. But he’s ready anyway.
“It’s kind of fun, different than playing tight end,” Miller said. “It’s an emergency thing; if they need me, they got me.”
And at a bargain price on top of it all.