It appeared the Chargers were set at the tight end position heading into the 2015 season, with All Pro Antonio Gates, talented receiver Ladarius Green and blockers John Phillips and David Johnson. However, with Gates suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's PED policy, a roster spot may be available.
Kyle Miller, the son of former NFL quarterback Mark Miller, has been working hard to earn this spot and has emerged as one of the more versatile tight ends on the roster. The former Mount Union Purple Raider has shown a penchant for delivering devastating blocks in the run game and has displayed unexpected receiving skills through the first two weeks of training camp.
Lining up at both a tight end and fullback, Miller (6'5", 262 lbs.) has shown impressive blocking abilities in practice. Working with the second-team offense during Fan Fest last Saturday, Miller put a huge block on rookie outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel during 11-on-11s, paving the way for a solid run by Branden Oliver. Miller also blew up the blocking sled during individual drills on Monday and has displayed solid blocking during special teams drills.
Miller's strength as a blocker is not surprising. What has been surprising is his presence in the passing game. Throughout camp, Miller has been consistently targeted by quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Brad Sorensen and has made the most of it.
On Monday, Miller displayed strong hands working against linebackers one-on-one, making a good catch while covered by middle linebacker Curtis Grant. During seven-on-sevens, Miller had a nice reception over the middle against veteran Kavell Conner. He also would have hauled in a touchdown against Conner during 11-on-11s had Clemens' pass not been way too high.
This isn't to say Miller is going to replace Gates anytime soon. Far from it, in fact. Overall, Miller has not been especially agile and has looked downright slow at times. However, he uses his length to consistently get open against linebackers and makes the catch nearly every time the ball is thrown his way.
Continuing to be a reliable target through the preseason would help Miller's chances of making the roster. As the Chargers already have good blocking tight ends in Phillips and Johnson, they may be looking for more of a receiving tight end to fill the void left by Gates. If this is the case, the Chargers may decide to tab former Oregon Duck David Paulson, who looks to have a slight edge over Miller as a receiver.
If the Chargers are indeed looking for more of a receiving option, history is not in Miller's favor. Miller has appeared in 17 preseason games over the past four years and has amassed just 12 receptions for 115 yards. That's not terrible, but it's also not much to write home about either. If Miller -- after entering the league in 2012 and spending time with five NFL teams -- is to finally stick with a squad, there would be no better time than Thursday's game against the Cowboys to start making his case.
Still, Miller's ability as a blocker and productivity on special teams may already be enough for him to make it onto San Diego's roster, if only for the first four games. And if he shows well, the future is bright as well, as Gates, Green, Johnson and Phillips are all working on expiring contracts.
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A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer