Tight end Zach Miller the offensive line’s captain of crunch

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comDecember 13, 2012 

In the Seahawks’ offensive scheme, they call the technique a “crunch” block.

It requires tight end Zach Miller to come back across the formation and nail an unsuspecting defense end on the other side.

It demands a tight end who is nimble enough to get there, and physical enough to execute the block once he arrives. And “crunch,” we presume, is the sound that often results.

So many of the big runs Seattle backs have broken off in recent games have been through holes he’s created that they might just go ahead and start calling him “Crunch” Miller.

Many expected Miller to be the 60-catch-per-season kind of tight end he was while going to the Pro Bowl for Oakland (2010). He hasn’t reached that figure in almost two full seasons in Seattle, but he’s been earning his money as one of the league’s best blocking tight ends.

“Zach is huge to a lot of the things we do around here,” fullback Mike Robinson said. “He’s a dominant blocker and a dominant receiving tight end. I learn so much of how to block guys just by watching Zach. He understands protection and he’s very, very versatile and very, very smart, which gives us a lot of flexibility in our offense.”

Miller last year landed a 5-year, $34 million contract ($17 million guaranteed) as a free agent from Oakland, where he played for Tom Cable, whom the Seahawks had hired as offensive line and assistant head coach.

But when injuries and inexperience left the offensive line chronically inconsistent in pass protection, the team schemers had little choice but to pull Miller off his routes and keep him at home to protect the quarterback.

Focusing on the dirty work, Miller had the lowest reception numbers of his career (25 for 233 yards). Fans who failed to notice his value as a blocker wondered if his statistics warranted the big contract.

“Numbers are great, but my thing is to win,” Miller said from a locker-room recliner Wednesday, one day after his 27th birthday. “I’d trade all the catches to be on a good football team that wins. The focus was on protection with how young our line was and it seemed like we never had the same starting five.”

He didn’t consider it a sacrifice.

“I understood we needed to keep our quarterback from getting sacked, and once we got settled I’d get the chance to get out on routes again.”

With three games remaining this season, he’s already up to 30 catches with two touchdowns, including a diving, finger-tip beauty for a score in Detroit.

He wouldn’t exactly say he was rusty as a receiver after spending a year as an honorary tackle, but “it took some time getting use to getting the ball again and taking more hits,” he said. “When you’re blocking all the time, it’s physical, but it’s not like getting hit by strong safeties and linebackers. And I had to get used to running with the ball after the catch again.”

Miller came out of Arizona State as a first-team All-Pacific-10 Conference player and first-team All-Academic player – after having been a 4.0 student in high school in Phoenix.

Coach Pete Carroll cited Miller as “savvy,” which is probably a better description of intelligence as it’s applied to on-the-hoof football IQ.

“He allows us to do so many little intricate things,” Carroll said. “Reading things at the line of scrimmage, adjusting the motions and stuff; that gives us a nice multiplicity. And he’s really, really tough at the point of attack. He’s also catching the ball terrifically and running his routes down the field. He’s just the complete football player.”

Everybody in the locker room saw Miller fill the unglamorous role the team needed last season … without a hint of protest. As Robinson said, “… complaining is not in his makeup.”

Tackle Breno Giacomini has lined up next to Miller most of the past two seasons, and he, too, has learned from Miller’s professional approach.

“I’m sure he would have liked more balls thrown his way, but it shows you that he’s a guy who comes to work and really acts like the ultimate pro,” Giacomini said. “He kind of goes unseen in the whole scheme of things, but, in reality, he’s a major part of it all.”

Especially when it comes to crunch time.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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