By CURTIS CRABTREE
RENTON, Wash. (AP) - The Seattle Seahawks felt they would be set at tight end after selecting Luke Willson in the fifth round of April's draft.
With veterans Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy returning to fill the top two spots on the depth chart, Willson would come in as a third option to solidly the back end of the Seahawks' roster.
But those plans have since been thrown out the window. McCoy was lost for the season to a torn Achilles during OTAs in May and Zach Miller has yet to practice in training camp after injuring his foot during the team's mini-camp in June. It's forced Willson and second-year tight end Sean McGrath to step into more prominent roles during camp.
With Miller sidelined for another couple of weeks before he's expected to return to practice, McGrath is the only tight end currently practicing who has any regular-season experience. He appeared in the last two games of the season for Seattle and the Seahawks' two postseason games against Washington and Atlanta. Now he's the most experienced player taking practice snaps for the team.
The Seahawks frequently used two-tight-end sets a season ago and will need McGrath and Willson to play even after Miller returns to action. Willson caught two passes for 16 yards in the Seahawks' preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers last Thursday. McGrath has yet to record a catch outside of the 2012 preseason.
"Luke got started a little slow and then he got going and got his feet under him with his blocking – caught the ball when he had his chances," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "McGrath did a really nice job. I thought Sean played really consistent ball on the edges and blocking and all, something I was anxious to see. He's a little stronger than he was last season and a little more physical so he kind of showed up."
The one benefit of Miller's absence has been the additional work the young guys have been able to get on the practice field. Willson and McGrath work mostly with the first-team offense with reserves Cooper Helfet, Jameson Konz and Andrei Lintz getting time with the second- and third-team offenses. Darren Fells will also begin to get more work after missing most of the last two weeks with a hamstring strain.
"Getting live reps you can kind of learn from your own mistakes," Willson said. "It's one thing to be able to learn it on your iPad or on the chalk board but it's another thing to do it live, have guys moving around, see the blitzes and the coverages and all the little details. You can talk about (it) but until you actually experience it, it's just a whole different world. It's been great for development."
Carroll said they aren't in a rush to get Miller back on the field. They know what he can bring to the table already and want to make sure he's fully healthy before clearing him to return to practice. Until Miller returns, McGrath and Willson have the biggest chance to prove they can be effective options in Seattle's offense.
"We've got all the confidence in Luke and (Cooper) and all the other tight ends that are in our position groups are doing just fine in picking up the slack," McGrath said. "It would be great to have Zach back and have that veteran edge. It's a big difference when he comes back around."
Notes: TE Darren Fells (hamstring) returned to practice for the first time since July 30. OT Michael Person (calf) and WR Perez Ashford (undisclosed) also returned to practice. ... DT Michael Bennett (undisclosed), DT Jesse Williams (knee) and LB Bobby Wagner (shoulder) were new players on the sidelines sitting out Tuesday's practice.
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