By Eric D. Williams The News tribune
RENTON — Quarterback Matt Flynn floated a spiral to the back corner of the end zone that tight end Zach Miller gathered in for a touchdown Saturday afternoon at Day 7 of training camp.
The Seattle Seahawks tight end, entering his second season with his new team, would like that to occur more often once the regular season starts.
Miller, 26, was one of Seattle’s headline free-agent acquisitions last season, inking a five-year, $34 million deal, including $17 million in guaranteed money.
However, after averaging 57 catches a year in his first four seasons in Oakland, Miller only totaled 25 catches for 233 yards, failing to get into the end zone for the first time in his five-year career in 2011.
Part of the reason for Miller’s drop in production was that Seattle relied on him to stay in and block more because of injuries and inexperience along the offensive line. Add to that the steep learning curve of picking up a new passing offense in a lockout-shortened offseason, and you can understand why Miller got off to a slow start.
But now that Miller has had a full season and this offseason in Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s version of the West Coast offense, he expects progress.
“It’s night and day difference,” Miller said. “A year ago I was trying to learn a whole new passing system as quick as I could. And so just having the knowledge and working with Bevell for the whole year, and having an offseason with it has helped so much, it’s hard to put words.”
Added Bevell: “Zach’s got a huge role on our team. And you kind of saw the role start taking shape last year on what he can do, and how we want to use him. I like what I see. Zach’s more confident in our offense.”
Miller also should benefit from the arrival of talented, pass-catching tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. The Seahawks ran two tight-end sets nearly 40 percent of the time last season, and they likely will be near or exceed that number this year.
New England was one of the more successful teams to use two tight end sets, with Rob Gronkoswki and Aaron Hernandez targeted 237 times by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last season.
However, expect more balance in Seattle’s two tight-ends look, with defenses having to choose whether to load up the box to stop Marshawn Lynch, or defend the pass against explosive receivers like Winslow, Miller, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate.
“It puts pressure on the defense because you don’t know whether we’re going to run the ball out of two tight ends, or you’re going to throw it,” Miller said. “So that’s the chess game that you’re playing with the defense.”
Mock game today
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll dialed back practice on Saturday in anticipation for a mock game the team will hold this afternoon.
Incumbent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson took snaps with the starters for the third time in training camp, while free-agent signee Matt Flynn worked with the second unit and rookie Russell Wilson was back with the third.
Bevell said the controlled scrimmage will offer another situation for the coaching staff to evaluate the quarterbacks, although defenders will not be able to hit the signal callers.
But ultimately, Bevell said the Seahawks will need the exhibition season to determine who wins the starting job.
“We’re trying to solve it as fast as we can,” he said. “But we’re not going to do it just to say we made a decision. We want to make sure that it plays out.
“We’re getting a pretty good feel out here of how they’re performing each and every day. It’s been pretty fun to really delve into this thing, and watch them and evaluate them — tear every angle apart that we can. But definitely the games are part of it. We need to see them in those live situations and how they react.”
Miller said the players would like the quarterback job resolved sooner rather than later.
“Definitely you want competition,” Miller said. “And you want guys pushing each other because it will bring out the best in them. But you do need that work with the guy who’s going to be the Week 1 starter.
“So you have to make that decision early enough to where you feel comfortable that that guy is on time with all of your starting receivers, all your starting tight ends and running backs, and that he just knows how to command the offense.”
Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee), linebacker Matt McCoy (knee), linebacker Bobby Wagner (quad), tight end Anthony McCoy (hamstring), linebacker Jameson Konz (shoulder), linebacker Allen Bradford and receivers Doug Baldwin (leg), Ricardo Lockette (unspecified) did not practice on Saturday. Offensive lineman James Carpenter (knee) and cornerback Walter Thurmond (leg) remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.