Zach Miller had his breakout game at about this time last season and expectations were high for him in 2010, but a freakish injury he suffered in a casual workout with David Garrard last February slowed his progress.
"I was slowed early with the foot injury all offseason. It wouldn't go away unless I let it go away," Miller said as he looked back on a season in which he's finishing with a kick, but is still thought to have more kick left in him.
Through 14 games, Miller has caught 20 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, a 52-yard catch-and-run score against Houston. Ironically, it was against Houston last season that he had a breakout 62-yard reception.
It's his blocking, however, that is drawing the most praise these days. Miller, a classic H-back style of receiving tight end, is no longer a liability as a blocker when he's in the game, and that's increasing his playing time.
"If you're willing to be a blocker, you can be a blocker," tight ends coach Rob Boras said. Boras added that Miller wants to be a blocker.
"For how far he's come, considering that he didn't do much in the spring, it's outstanding. He gives us an extra dimension. He's really developed in a hurry," Boras said of Miller.
The Jaguars believe they have the best block-and-catch tight end in the game in Marcedes Lewis. He's having a Pro Bowl-caliber season with 51 catches for 637 yards and nine touchdowns. The Jaguars also maintain that he's the best blocking tight end in the game.
Miller is the catch-a-lot, block-a-little complement to Lewis. Miller creates mismatches and Lewis says everybody benefits from it.
"He's not going to be me. He's not going to be a true 'Y.' He's a hybrid. He's shown flashes. He's going to be as good as he wants to be," Lewis said of Miller. "When he's on the field and we're in double tight ends, that's going to open things up for everybody. That forces (defenses) to be in different personnel."
Miller's contribution is expected to increase. He's a former small-college quarterback making the conversion to pro tight end. It's a rare conversion that logically should require patience.
"I'm just getting better. I think I put myself into position to be on the field more, blocking-wise," Miller said. "I've definitely grown as a player. I'm seeing things better."
Boras believes Miller's career as a quarterback has left him with instincts that are aiding his growth as a receiver.
"He has such a good feel and awareness. He has a trait you can't teach and that's his awareness and understanding of coverages," Boras said.
It's all about the receiving numbers for Miller. The more his blocking improves, the more playing time he'll receive, but he wasn't drafted and he isn't being developed to be an in-line blocker. His skill is as a receiver.
"I envision myself being an explosive weapon. This is another part of my growth," Miller said.
He's the new-wave tight end. It's the catches that count.
"It looks like it's evolving that way. There aren't many guys Marcedes' type. Everybody wants to see the numbers and that's the way it is right now. Those are the guys that get recognized," Boras said.