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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — As if there wasn't enough on Luke Willson's plate this week, the Seattle Seahawks tight end is also practicing his long snapping as a potential emergency option.
It's just one more thing the Seahawks need to address with Zach Miller — Seattle's starting tight end and backup long snapper — out for a few weeks following ankle surgery.
"Probably not the greatest but we'll get better. It's been a while," Willson said of his snapping ability.
Willson's role becomes exponentially more important starting this week with the Seahawks preparing to travel to Washington for a Monday night game. Miller will miss at least the next two games and potentially more after undergoing surgery during the Seahawks' bye last week.
Before he went home to Ontario, Canada, to spend time with his family, Willson had an idea that Miller was going to choose surgery to relieve the discomfort in his ankle.
"I know he was struggling in the Denver game a bit and just talking with him it sounded pretty painful," Willson said. "I think he played 71 snaps on that ankle, which little things like that gets kind of overlooked. That's pretty remarkable. He was fighting. He'll be back this year and I have to hold down the fort until he comes back."
This won't be the first time Willson's been called upon to be a starter. Willson filled in for two weeks last season as a rookie when Miller was out with injuries and he said stepping into the role again is familiar now.
"When you're the backup guy, you kind of always want to prepare for it," Willson said. "I've been here practicing and we rotate so it's one of those things where I don't really feel like I'm entering new territory."
More than anything, Willson is improved because of the experience he's gotten. Seattle drafted Willson because of his unique speed and pass-catching ability. Willson has only one catch this season but that's due in part to Seattle using more three wide receiver sets because of Percy Harvin's availability and the emergence of other young receivers like Ricardo Lockette, who already has two touchdown catches.
How Willson handles the blocking responsibilities will be the biggest question because of how much Miller has done to help Seattle's offensive line as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league.
"I think from when I first got here I have made a lot of strides," Willson said. "For me it's more about running my feet after contact. I feel I've really improved."
With Willson starting, Cooper Helfet will be the primary backup tight end. But if Seattle wanted a third option it could turn to rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. Before moving to tackle his final season at Penn State, Gilliam was exclusively a tight end.
That will probably be unlikely. Seattle has yet to run a play this season with three tight ends on the field and ran only 20 the entire 2013 regular season, according to STATS Inc.
"They came to me when I was getting scouted out that I could possibly play tight end having a past in it," Gilliam said. "Obviously tackle is my future, but help the team out right now."
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