It's going to be Luke Willson as the starting tight end, Cooper Helfet number two and tackle Alvin Bailey as a third "tight end" on running downs for the next few weeks for the Seahawks. Even rookie tackle Garry Gilliam, a tight end until his senior season of 2013 at Penn State, may get some of the time at the position. All this is while starting tight end Zach Miller recovers following surgery to clean out bone spurs and what coach Pete Carroll said were other "loose bodies" in his ankle.
Carroll said following the Seahawks' indoor practice this afternoon at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center that the team likes their in-house options at tight end better than signing a new one. That is after Seattle worked out numerous tight ends as potential signees during its just-complete bye week.
"We've looked hard. Had a lot of guys in here. Worked out a lot of people," Carroll said. "We'd like to stay with our people, all of the banking on communication in the system that's been working for us -- all of that. So we're going to get it fixed right here."
Carroll said that while the quiet Gilliam hasn't exactly knocked on his office door asking for time at tight end, fellow rookie and defensive end Cassius Marsh has. Marsh caught two passes as a tight end in his career at UCLA and he worked out some at that position as well as defensive end for NFL teams before May's draft. That's when Seattle selected him in the fourth round.
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"No, he's not as quiet as Garry," Carroll joked.
Carroll said Miller, a 2010 Pro Bowl tight end with Oakland who has been with Seahawks offensive-line coach Tom Cable executing Cable's zone-blocking schemes for years since both were Raiders, has been hurting for a while. The Seahawks decided to get it fixed last week during the bye so Miller would miss one fewer game than he would have by undergoing surgery at any other point in the season.
"We are going to give him a couple weeks, then go week-to-week and see how he does," Carroll said.
He added the team does not expect this to be a long-term recovery and thus it will not place Miller on season-ending injured reserve.
Even though this sounds like it could have been worse, with Miller not missing a larger bulk of the regular season, this is still a major loss for any length of time to the Seahawks' offense. Miller, who has six catches through three games this season after 38 and 33 receptions the previous two seasons, is valued as much or more for his run and pass blocking as for his receiving. He knows Cable's blocking system better than anyone; he coached Miller in Oakland from 2007-10, the first two years as his line coach and the last two as the Raiders' head coach.
"Zach does a ton of things," Carroll said. "He was with Tom for all those years, and that background has really helped us a lot, all those little things that he knows how to do. Finesse-kind of situations, motioning and being in the backfield as a fullback as well as a normal tight end. And also we've moved him outside. ... An extremely versatile player, extremely on it. And a great, tough competitor, too. So we are missing a lot with Zach."
When I asked Carroll how Willson, the team's fifth-round draft choice in 2013 from Rice whose value is primarily as a pass catcher, is progressing as a blocker, Carroll said: "Luke's done a really good job. He's obviously going to play a ton now. It's really a great opportunity for him to step up. He's improved in every area. ... This is a lot to ask of him, though. This is the first time he will have this kind of duty.
"It's his turn to step up."'
Carroll also said Helfet will be "integrally a part" of the offense while Miller is out. Seattle signed the former undrafted free agent from Duke in 2012. He missed much of August into mid-September with a knee injury but has been back fully participating for a couple weeks.
--Carroll thought safety Kam Chancellor, who had his own ankle issues that bothered him most noticeably in the loss at San Diego on Sept. 14, looked great in practice today following the team's seven days off for its bye.
--Carroll said cornerback Tharold Simon may return to practice in two weeks. He had knee surgery early this month. At one time the Seahawks were thinking Simon, the second-year man from LSU who missed last season with foot injuries, would replace Jeremy Lane (groin) as the nickel back. Lane is on the injured-reserve list with a designation to return after eight weeks, and is still on track to return for the Nov. 9 game against the New York Giants. Each NFL team only gets one such IR-to-return designation per season, which is why Seattle will carry 52 available players on its 53-man roster in these next few weeks while Miller recovers from his surgery.