Miller isn't the best or most valuable player on the team. He doesn't play a glamor position such as quarterback or running back. But through a combination of his own talent, the way he fits on his team, his demonstrated reliability and the depth existing behind him, Miller appears especially important heading into training camp. Every team in the NFC West has players fitting the mold. We single out four of them here:
Miller, Seahawks: Miller has missed only three games in six NFL seasons and has never played fewer than 15 of 16. He caught eight passes for 142 yards in the Seahawks' divisional-round playoff defeat in Atlanta last season. The Seahawks once envisioned Miller and former starter John Carlson playing together. Rookie Luke Willson projects as the second tight end this season, but there's little chance he could provide the toughness and blocking Miller offers as a nearly every-down player. Another potential backup, Anthony McCoy, was lost to a torn Achilles tendon. The team signed former Falcons tight end Michael Palmer on Tuesday to fill out depth. Sean McGrath returns from last season and is also in the mix.
Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers thought they needed Boldin even before they lost leading receiver Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles tendon. They really need him now. Boldin, like Miller, is a tough player and willing run blocker. He projects as the only proven, reliable and healthy wide receiver on the roster. The team plans to develop A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette without relying too heavily on any of them before they've proven themselves capable. Boldin has missed only four games over the past four seasons, impressive for an older player (32) with hard miles.
Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals: Dansby last played for the Cardinals during the playoffs following the 2009 season. He was a reliable, productive linebacker for the Miami Dolphins over the past three seasons before rejoining Arizona this offseason. Top inside linebacker Daryl Washington will serve a four-game suspension to open the season, so the Cardinals need Dansby to help them get through that patch. They could also use Dansby to set an example for some of the younger players, including rookie linebacker Kevin Minter, a second-round choice.
Scott Wells, St. Louis Rams: Wells is a sleeper pick. The Rams would have to scramble if they lost other players, including James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan. Wells, who missed nine games last season, hasn't been as reliable lately as the other players featured here. He deserves mention, however, because the team doesn't have another center ready to go. Robert Turner left in free agency. Rookie Barrett Jones isn't yet healthy and may need time to develop. Wells is the veteran center St. Louis acquired to lighten the pre-snap load for quarterback Sam Bradford. He's easy to overlook with so much focus on new left tackle Jake Long and all the speedy skill players St. Louis added. I'm just not sure what the Rams would do without him.