Luke Willson was a member of the Canadian national baseball team at an international junior tournament. That was on top of playing hockey until his sophomore year of high school, plus basketball, track and football growing up in LaSalle, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit.
Now the Seahawks' backup has another job: fill-in starting tight end while Zach Miller recovers from ankle surgery.
Willson says his blocking, which he wasn't asked to do much of in college at Rice, has improved dramatically since last October when he filled in for Miller for two games because the 2010 Pro Bowl selection had a hamstring injury. In fact, Willson says the difference between him then and now is "kind of like night and day."
Don't fixate on how many catches Willson has in three games this season -- it's as many as that other Wilson on the team, the quarterback named Russell. (Miller has six receptions in three games). The truer measure of how much Willson have progressed will come beginning Monday night at Washington in how many times he blocks his man on the edge, in how many times offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell doesn't have to devote a running back, tackle, extra tight end or wide receiver coming down as a wing to help Willson pin Redskins in at the point of attack.
That is Miller's true value to Seattle's offense: occupying and beating the defense's edge rusher or contain man to free teammates to block downfield on the "second level," on linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. Miller often turns 4-yard gains into 14-, 24- or more yard ones, especially on cut-back runs by Marshawn Lynch. Let's see if the Seahawks can maintain a fair number of explosive plays around end and on cut-back runs with Willson in for Miller the next few games. That could end up being what the Seahawks miss most during Miller's recovery.
--Here's my story in today's News Tribune on Willson's readiness to replace Miller -- and on him going home during last week's bye to be there for his father's birthday for the first time in seven years.
--TNT columnist also writes about Miller in today's paper, specifically on how difficult and multi-faceted it will be trying to replicate what Miller brings. Boling says losing Miller is perhaps the one injury the Seahawks could least afford.
--How tough is Miller? Consider he played 71 of 78 snaps in Seattle's previous game against Denver knowing he needed surgery to remove bone spurs and other floating parts in his pained ankle. He was hurting so much during and after that overtime win that he told Willson he was going to get operated a couple days later, as a way of letting Willson know to get ready.
It's also another example how in this NFL where contracts aren't guaranteed beyond the current season -- not even for Pro Bowl players such as Miller -- guys feel that can't afford to miss any games for any pain unless they absolutely have to. In this case, there's another factor in play: Miller has a clause in his contract paying him up to $900,000 in per-game bonuses this season. So he has more than ample motivation to get back as soon he can. The bonus clause was part of Seattle's restructuring Miller's base pay down to a more cap-friendly $900,000 for 2014. He also got a $1 million roster bonus in March as part of the restructured deal.
--Washington left tackle Trent Williams says the Seahawks get up in the morning and put their pants on the same way the Redskins do: one leg at a time. So he doesn't see Seattle (2-1) as having a leg up on his 1-3 team Monday night.
“Can we beat them? Yeah,” Williams tells the Washington Post. “At the end of the day, they’re not robots. They’re human beings and nobody’s perfect. Nobody plays perfect every Sunday. They have been beaten before. It’s not like they’re unstoppable."
Williams may or may not get to back up his words in Monday's game. He dislocated his knee cap in the Redskins' 45-14 loss at home to the New York Giants last week. He didn't practice Tuesday.
This is the same Williams, of course, who shoved Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in the face during some smack talk in the middle of FedEx Field following Seattle's playoff win at Washington two seasons ago. That incident on national television was the beginning of Sherman getting on the country's radar as a brash leader of a rising, young Seahawks team.
--That playoff win in January 2013 came in Russell Wilson's first career postseason start. He is returning Monday to the stadium that is two hours up Interstate 95 from where he grew up in Richmond, Va.
--The Seahawks' weekly players' day off mandated by the collective bargaining agreement is today. They return to practice tomorrow through Saturday before they leave for D.C.
Here is the transcript of what Luke Willson said following yesterday's practice:
TE Luke Willson
September 30, 2014
(On stepping in as the starter this week with Zach Miller out) Last year there were a couple weeks where Zach [Miller] was out. It’s one of those things where, when you’re the backup guy, you kind of always want to prepare for it. I’ve been here practicing and we rotate so it’s one of those things where, I don’t really feel like I’m entering new territory.
(On his role as a Tight End now vs. when Zach Miller is starting) I think a lot of it is Zach, he’s so mentally strong, he’s a pro’s pro and just his veteran leadership is something, being a young guy I’m going to have to try and step up as much as I can. Like I said, so now I got to step up and get the job done.
(On how different of a player does he feel now from last year) Oh big time. Especially when it comes to recognizing defensive fronts and just being comfortable with technique, especially in the run game, but I feel like it’s kind of like night and day.
(On him progressing as a blocker) I think from when I first got here I’ve made a lot of strides. For me, it’s one of those things where I’ve just got to run my feet after contact. I feel like I’ve really improved and I’ve done a pretty good job.
(On significance of Zach Miller’s injury) I know he was struggling in the Denver game a bit and just talking to him, it was pretty painful. I think he played 71 snaps on that ankle which, little things like that, guys kind of overlook, just pretty remarkable. I saw him out there struggling but he was fighting and he’ll be back this year and I’ve got to hold down the fort until he comes back.
(On Cooper Helfet) I think Coop’s healthy and he’s a guy that has really been working hard. We’ve got a pretty tight group of tight ends so I really think you’ll see him out there. He’s able to do a lot of things so it’ll be kind of cool to see Coop out there really contributing.
(On excitement for Cooper Helfet getting a chance to play) Definitely; I think he’s excited too. You see a guy that comes out here; I was just thinking last year there were times where he would come out here and play every offensive scouting snap and every defensive scouting snap and he was very good at both and it was one of those things where he was always kind of a work horse. He came out here and gave 110% every day and didn’t complain about it. You see, obviously he made the 53 [roster] early and got a little dinged up, but he’s healed up now it’s pretty cool, from being away, to see how far he’s come since I’ve been here.