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His future is now


He won't have to finish reading this story to know what's below.

Soon after this story is posted on this web site, Zach Miller says he knows the comments section will say something to the effect of, "Sure, if he can stay on the field . . ."

Or, "Great, we've heard this before."

The Jaguars' fourth-year tight end said that's to be expected, as are the comments. He won't be shocked. He won't be offended.

And he sure won't disagree.

"I'm saying that, too – I'll comment on there, too," Miller said, laughing.

Miller, the Jaguars' sixth-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, is a tech-savvy guy, and he's a self-aware guy, too. As such, he said he understands his storyline as the Jaguars prepare for next week's beginning of the on-field portion of the 2012 conditioning program.

He must stay healthy. He must be available.

And although he says he's ready physically, and although he says he believes he's more ready to play tight end at the NFL level – and do so productively – than at any point in his career, he said he knows just as much that the time for talk is over.

"You can talk about it, but you have to do it," he said. "You can say, 'I want to do this and this,' but you actually have to play and you have to do it."

His chance to start working toward that will come immediately. After a five-month rehabilitation following October 20 shoulder surgery, Miller said he was cleared to practice two weeks ago by Alabama-based orthopedic specialist James Andrews.

"I can proceed with my normal lifestyle, was what he said," Miller explained.

Miller said he believes more than ever that lifestyle can include being a very productive NFL tight end. Getting to that point – where he truly felt comfortable at the position—was a process he said took time.

Having played quarterback his entire career until arriving in Jacksonville, Miller said learning to play tight end was a transition. He said he learned comparatively few basics as a rookie season under then-tight ends coach Mike Tice because Tice didn't want to overwhelm him during the transition. During the last two seasons, playing for Rob Boras, he said he gradually learned the fundamentals of the position such as hand placement and footwork.

"I'm comfortable playing tight end now," he said.

Miller said he began feeling that confidence last season, and his main focus now is putting himself in a position to continue feeling that. The main way to do that, he said, is to stay healthy, something he said he has discussed extensively this off-season with Jaguars trainer Mike Ryan and new strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski.

 "The better shape I'm in, the less prone I am to injury," Miller said. "I have to be in the best shape I can be in."

But while Miller uses the words injury and prone in the same sentence, he won't put them back to back, noting that his injuries have been more bad luck than a trend.

He fractured a tibia in a rain-soaked preseason opener on a muddy field as a rookie. That kept him out the first two games of the regular season. The next year, he sustained a Lisfranc foot injury during the off-season, and although he missed training camp, he did not miss a game.

 "People see, 'He had this, he had this, he had this,''' he said. "Everybody has those. I missed two games my first two years. We play a very physical game."

As Miller prepares for his fourth season, he said he is confident not only that he can stay healthy, but that the Jaguars believe in him. In Miller's exit interview after last season, Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith told him his luck would change, and told him, "Stay healthy, and you're going to be a player."

Miller said he appreciated that, and that he believes his situation is ideal moving forward. Not only did new Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey play tight end, he coached tight ends, and the offense that the Jaguars will run – the offense Mularkey ran in Atlanta and in Buffalo and Pittsburgh before that – is friendly to tight ends.

"Our offense is run through the eyes of a tight end," he said. "That's how he sees the game. We have a great group of tight ends. There's a lot of promise there."

Still, when it comes to that word – promise – Miller said it's a word that isn't for him. Maybe it once was, but not anymore. His future is now, and when he hears someone say it – or even comment – he certainly doesn't disagree.

"If I can stay healthy, I can play," he said. "Enough of the, 'OK, he can do this and he can do this – he's got promise.' I have to do it. I'm confident I can do it, but it has to be done."

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