Willson, Helfet ready for tight end duties

RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks tight ends Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet were practicing their deep-snapping skills at practice Tuesday, just in case.

Starting tight end Zach Miller, who had minor ankle surgery last week, also happens to be the back-up deep snapper to Clint Gresham, so Willson and Helfet thought they should be ready.

“I haven’t done that since junior college,” Helfet said. “I can do it if they need me.”

Willson and Helfet’s immediate concern this week is getting the job done at tight end while Miller is out for at least the next two games. Willson steps into the starting role, something he did in two games last season as a rookie while Miller was injured.

“When you’re the backup guy, you kind of always want to prepare for it,” Willson said Tuesday. “It’s not one of those things where I feel like I’m entering new territory.”

It is for Helfet, the team’s third tight end who played in his first NFL game against Denver on Sept. 21, but only one special teams. So Helfet likely will see his first action at tight end in the road game Monday night against Washington.

“I’ve been getting ready for this moment for a long time,” Helfet said. “It’s exciting, but it’s the same stuff for me. I’m been playing in this offense for a long time [two seasons on the practice squad], so I’m comfortable and I’m ready to take that step. I’m ready to get in there and make some plays. I know the two-tight end sets and I should be in there for a couple of different packages.”

If the need arises, the Seahawks have some other options, as well. One is rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, who played tight end his first three years at Penn State

Gilliam (6-foot-5, 305) said he worked on several pass routes at practice Tuesday and felt comfortable running all of them.

It’s unlikely, but Seattle also could use rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh at tight end, who caught two touchdowns passes lining up at tight end at UCLA.

“Whatever the team needs," Marsh said. “I was in the game plan every week [at UCLA]. I would line up in short yardage and sometimes out wide, but the majority was at tight end in goal-line situations. I’m very comfortable doing it.”

If it’s just for blocking, the Seahawks also could use back-up offensive lineman Alvin Bailey as a third tackle, something they did a few times at the end of last season.

“If they call my number I’ll be ready,” Bailey said. “We had some success with that at the end of the year and the playoffs.”

The majority of the responsibilities at tight end will fall on Willson’s shoulders. He has only one catch in the first three games, but Willson believes he is a much better player than he was a year ago when he caught 20 passes.

“Oh, big time,” Willson said. “Especially when it comes to recognizing defensive fronts and just being comfortable with technique, I feel like it’s night and day.”

Miller isn’t easily replaced. He’s an eight-year veteran who is viewed as one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. But he also caught 33 passes last season and had five touchdowns.

“Zach, he’s so mentally strong,” Willson said. “He’s a pro’s pro with his veteran leadership. I’m going to have to try and step up as much as I can and get the job done.”

Willson said he knew almost immediately after the Denver game that Miller was going to undergo surgery on his ankle.

“Just talking to him, it was pretty painful,” Willson said. “I think he played 71 snaps on that ankle, which is pretty remarkable. I saw him out there struggling, but he was fighting. I’ve got to hold down the fort until he comes back.”