On the final play of a practice coach Jack Del Rio mercifully cut short before the day got any hotter, rookie tight end Zach Miller (pictured right) darted across the middle and caught a pass in the end zone from Paul Smith. It was a perfect way to conclude practice for a couple of reasons:
- If it were a game, it would've been a touchdown.
- On a day when the heat was sapping everyone's strength, leaving the field on a high note was a nice morale boost.
There could be more, however, to this story because Miller is a player who is beginning to open eyes in a big way and his catch that ended practice on Tuesday could turn out to be symbolic of what's ahead. There are whispers among coaches and scouts that the kid from Nebraska-Omaha making the switch from small-college quarterback to NFL tight end could become a difference-maker.
"Dirk (Koetter) likes to utilize the tight end in the offense. The young guy, Zach Miller, has really progressed. He's shown he can mismatch a safety. You've got the Owen Daniels, Dallas Clark types. He's faster than both of those guys," General Manager Gene Smith said.
Miller's progress has been obvious to everyone. Earlier in practice, he flashed down the sideline after catching a short pass. The sixth-round pick has the speed the Jaguars thought they had acquired when they spent a first-round pick on Matt Jones.
"I think Zach Miller is an excellent prospect. For our scouting department to find that guy; his athleticism jumps out at you, his eagerness to learn and his willingness to compete. I would've never guessed he's as fast as he is," Koetter, the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, said.
With one practice remaining in this OTAs season, Koetter offered a progress report on his offense.
"We're real happy with the mixture of guys we've added. We got two really good offensive linemen (Vince Manuwai and Mo Williams) back, we drafted two guys (Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton), and added one (Tra Thomas) in free agency. We totally revamped our wide receivers, so two of our three groups have been revamped," Koetter said.
The rebuilding theme those facts would tend to indicate will earn the Jaguars a lot of last-place predictions this summer, but Koetter's expectations are clearly much higher. He likes his quarterback and his running backs, he has every reason to believe his offensive line will be better than the patchwork line behind which David Garrard played last season, and revamped is the best thing you can say about the receiving corps. What's not to like?
"Coming off 2007, everyone was picking us and no one was picking Atlanta and Miami. You can move up or down quicker than people think," Koetter said.
What are the keys to success in 2009?
"Stay healthy, number one. We saw what happens when you don't stay healthy. Number two, have some early success and build confidence. That was us in '07 and that was Atlanta and Miami in '08. There's a blueprint out there," Koetter said.
Rookies, such as Miller, would seem to be a big part of the Jaguars' blueprint.