Mike Tice looks at Dallas Clark on tape and he sees what Zach Miller (pictured) can become. In Miller, Tice sees the potential for something special, for which Miller gave Jaguars fans a preview in the team's season-ending loss in Cleveland.
Miller caught eight passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns in that game. He was nominated for AFC rookie-of-the-week honors.
"He obviously showed in that Cleveland game what he can do. Used in the right way, there are many types of techniques of blocks he can do. Trying to get him on the field for 30 snaps, which would be half the game, would be very important. If you want to be more explosive, it doesn't always have to come from the WR position," Tice said of Miller.
A year ago at this time, Miller was coming off a sterling career as a small-college quarterback. He was being evaluated by NFL scouts as a quarterback/wide receiver/tight end prospect. In other words, he was an athlete without a position.
The Jaguars saw in Miller the speed and athleticism that are the trademarks of the NFL's new-wave tight ends, defined best by the Colts' Dallas Clark, an undersized first-round pick in 2003 who has blossomed into one of the stars of the league.
"We watched some tape where (Clark) was getting thrown around but he was in there fighting. He's the guy we're going to emulate. He would be a very good role model (for Miller)," Tice said.
As early as last spring, the Jaguars saw what Miller could mean to the team's passing game.
"It was easy to see when we were in shorts that he was a very gifted and explosive athlete that was going to create problems for linebackers and safeties when they had to cover him in space. It was also obvious he didn't have the strength to do much in-line and he had to be detached from the line of scrimmage. When he hurt his knee in Miami and was out five weeks, it was a starting-over process. It was very obvious to me, his position coach, that he didn't have his legs under him. My plan was to develop two or three finesse blocks, things he could do just with his athleticism. In the last few weeks, he started to develop those talents. It was still tough to get him into the twenties, as far as plays are concerned," Tice said.
"It was a long year for me. There was a lot of progression I had to make. I'm getting more comfortable every day and I feel if I stay on the path I'm on, I think I can be pretty good at the position," Miller told jaguars.com on Monday.
He needs to be on the field more often and he knows what it's going to take for that to happen.
"I'd like to be in a position that I can be on the field all the time. If I put on a little bit of weight, I can go out and fight a little more than I did this year. I don't know if I'll ever be a traditional blocking tight end, but I feel like I can be fairly decent at blocking, more or less get in the way. That's what blocking is. I'm never going to pancake somebody," Miller said.
"The biggest thing moving forward is not to gain weight but to gain strength. He doesn't need to go on this big eating thing and gain weight, he just needs to get stronger," Tice added.
A radical weight gain could compromise Miller's speed and athletic ability. His 62-yard reception against Houston on Dec. 6 is the longest pass-reception by a tight end in Jaguars history. The Jaguars drafted Miller to make those kinds of plays, not for in-line blocking.
"It gives me a sense of going into next year I'm decent. It's something to build on next year," Miller said of his late-season success.
"From top to bottom, we all have a great work ethic and we mesh well together. We have a good feeling and hopefully we can build on it. We're going to have a good team. I expect us to contend for a championship. I want a shot to contend for a championship. Expectations will be high," he said of next season.
Tice's expectations for Miller are especially high.