RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Zach Miller is getting re-adjusted to what it's like to be an eligible pass catcher again after a year spent being a de facto offensive lineman.
The former Pro Bowler had his least productive receiving year of his career after joining the Seattle Seahawks last season. Miller caught just 25 passes for the season and failed to find the end zone for the first time in his five-year career.
Miller was called upon to be an extra blocker for a Seattle offensive line that struggled to find its footing early in the year.
The Seahawks were breaking in two rookies on the line with a new offensive line coach in Tom Cable installing a new system. So Miller had to be kept in to block to keep Seattle quarterbacks upright. Miller never complained about the lack of targets a season ago, but knew he could help the team if given a greater opportunity.
"The only frustration was I felt like I could help our offense," Miller said.
Miller finally had the breakout offensive game he'd been looking for last week in Seattle's 16-12 win over the Carolina Panthers. Miller caught three passes for 59 yards against the Panthers, his highest yardage total since joining the Seahawks. Russell Wilson found Miller twice over the middle of the field for big gains, his final catch of the game helping lead to a field goal to extend Seattle's lead in the fourth quarter.
"I think it is really, really exciting that Zack is a factor down the field," head coach Pete Carroll said. "He is already a factor at the line of scrimmage, he's a terrific blocker. He's caught everything we've thrown at him, but he's becoming an issue and that's what we want is for our guys to become issues so they have to try to stop him and look for him."
The offensive line has been more solid in its second year under Cable, which has given Miller more opportunities to leave the line of scrimmage. Miller has already been able to haul in 12 passes for 150 yards on the year and is second on the team in receiving.
"The way they've been playing has allowed me to get out a little more," Miller said.
Through five weeks, Seattle's offense has struggled to find consistent production. They are last in the league in red zone efficiency, 27th in total offense and 31st in passing offense. Wilson has been held in check by the coaching staff to try to keep his workload manageable.
Carroll loosened the reins on Wilson slightly in Carolina and he responded by making a few more throws downfield, including the pair to Miller. Yet, getting in the end zone is still a hurdle the Seahawks, and Miller, are looking to overcome.
"As the pass game develops we have to keep getting better, keep improving and I think it's coming along," Miller said. "Once we turn those long drives into touchdowns, we're going to be putting up some points so I think that's the corner we have to turn right now."
Notes: C Max Unger returned to practice on Friday and is expected to play against the New England Patriots on Sunday. Unger had yet to practice this week after suffering a hip injury in the win over Carolina last week. Unger and RB Marshawn Lynch (back) are listed as probable. ... DT Jaye Howard (foot) has been downgraded to out. He has been unable to practice this week.