Now is the time for Zach Miller.
And when the Jaguars&39; third-year tight end says that, he said he doesn&39;t necessarily mean next season, or the next stage of what in the past two seasons has taken on the appearances of a quickly-developing career.
Miller means now as in now – the off-season, the coming weeks.
Because Miller said he knows that the reality in the NFL is while working in training camp and during the regular season is fine – and certainly necessary – it&39;s not enough to make drastic, career-altering improvement.
That&39;s the sort of improvement Miller very much wants to make, and to make that sort of improvement, the off-season is crucial.
"That&39;s the goal," Miller said. "When your colleagues and your coaches see you putting in that off-season work, that just builds confidence. They say, &39;OK, when this season kicks off – when we really get down to business – he&39;s going to be ready. He&39;s going to be at his peak.&39; "
Miller said that didn&39;t happen last season.
A sixth-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft who played quarterback at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Miller caught 21 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, and said his confidence was high after an eight-reception game against Cleveland in the regular-season finale.
His hope, he said, was to follow that with a productive, complete off-season.
Instead, a foot injury cost him valuable off-season time, with the injury lingering into training camp and the regular season.
"That set me back a little bit, and even going into camp, I had to be able to make it through camp," Miller said. "Last year, I was sitting there watching. To be honest, that stunk. I need to be out there getting better."
Miller said he didn&39;t feel completely healthy until midway through the season. Only then, he said, he felt he had his legs back and could run.
He finished last season with 20 receptions for 216 yards and a touchdown, and said even with the labor uncertainty facing the NFL and its players, this off-season remains critical.
"If we do have an off-season, I&39;m very excited to get back to that point of, &39;OK, I want to open some eyes,&39; " Miller said. "I want to be out there and make some plays in the off-season so that they have the confidence in me as soon as this season kicks off, that they can come to me as go-to guy.
"We have a lot of weapons. If me and (Jaguars Pro Bowl tight end) Marcedes (Lewis) can get on the field together, we can be a great duo."
Miller said he considers Lewis the NFL&39;s best tight end, and said working with him and Jaguars tight ends coach Rob Boras has helped his technique. Boras, Miller said, helped him improve significantly as a blocker last season, and he said while that&39;s an area he wants to improve, he also knows his strengths.
"That (blocking) is not going to be my primary thing," Miller said. "I can&39;t get away from what got me into the league, and that&39;s my speed and my ability to make plays. That&39;s always going to be my main thing – my ability to get into open space and make plays.
"Do I need to focus on blocking? Yes… I feel like I&39;m getting a whole lot better at it, so I feel like if I can just keep progressing, I&39;ll be all right."
Miller said progression is what his NFL career has been about to date, and he said he hopes it will continue. And while he said at times as a rookie there were times he "really didn&39;t know what he was getting himself into," last season was different. With a greater knowledge of the offense, and a year of experience, mistakes were fewer, and plays and opportunities came more often.
"I can feel it – getting more comfortable," Miller said. "Now, I feel 100 percent confident in what I can do. Now, I just have to build on it and get better at it."
Gaining that confidence, Miller said, was a process that took time.
While most NFL rookies have confidence they can play, many still talk after their first season or two of having needed to prove themselves it&39;s true. Miller said that&39;s a process he went through, and that now he knows he can play in the NFL, and do so at a high level.
"The more you do it, the better you get at it," he said. "That builds some confidence. You come in and having played at the college level, you look at these guys that are already there. That&39;s your dream, so when you get there, you&39;re like, &39;Ooh. Can I really do it like they do it?&39; When it comes down to it, you get on the field and you start playing ball and you realize, &39;OK, I&39;m just playing football, what I&39;ve done my entire life.&39;
"At that point, when you get there and get settled down and you see yourself making plays that other guys are making, that&39;s where you get comfortable with yourself and say, &39;I can do this. Now, I have to build on it.&39;
"I feel I can play. I feel like I belong. I just have to hone the craft and make some plays."