By Brady Henderson
The injuries that sidelined Seahawks tight ends Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy were double-edged swords for Luke Willson, on one hand taking away examples from which to learn but at the same time giving the rookie plenty of opportunities to hone his craft with the first-unit offense.
Rookie Luke Willson, a fifth-round pick out of Rice, is vying to be the Seahawks' backup tight end behind Zach Miller. (AP)
"Luke has had a fantastic preseason and offseason. He's ready to play for us," coach Pete Carroll told "Brock and Danny" this week. "He's done a great job of studying and he's adapted well."
That's a nice endorsement for a player who wasn't expected to contribute much as a rookie when Seattle chose him in the fifth round. Miller was entrenched as the starter, after all, and McCoy was coming off a year in which he began to curb the inconsistency that defined his 2011 season. But when McCoy went down with an Achilles injury during OTAs, it left Willson with an opportunity to grab hold of the backup job behind Miller.
Willson has four catches for 37 yards in three preseason games, and he's flashed the speed that was so enticing to the Seahawks that they were determined to draft him even though he was coming off a senior season at Rice in which he caught all of 11 passes and wasn't even a starter.
"We really, really would have been disappointed if we wouldn't have been able to acquire him, that down-the-field threat," general manager John Schneider told "Brock and Danny" before the start of Seattle's rookie minicamp.
While he's plenty fast, there was a question as to whether or not Willson could develop as a blocker quickly enough to see significant playing time as a rookie. Willson, who's 6 feet 5 and 251 pounds, has said that maintaining a low pad level while run blocking is a point of emphasis, and it's an area in which Brock Huard said he has noticed gradual improvement from Willson.
Carroll agreed that Willson has progressed nicely in that regard.
"He continues to improve and get more comfortable with what's asked of him, and he's handling a lot of stuff; we're not holding back on him," Carroll said. "That's a really good sign that he can contribute early and be a factor for us."
Willson is a virtual lock to make Seattle's final roster. It's still unclear, though, whether he'll be the Seahawks' No. 2 tight or if that distinction will go to Sean McGrath, Cooper Helfet or a veteran added after rosters are trimmed to 53 players on Saturday.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.