Getting noticed as a tight end in the AFC isn't easy, what with San Diego's Antonio Gates and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark putting up prolific numbers in elite passing offenses.
Yet the Raiders' Zach Miller is making inroads in his fourth season. Word is spreading that Oakland boasts one of the NFL's top tight ends.
"Quite a few of the Texans came up to me afterward and said, 'Hey, man, heck of a game. You're a baller,' " Miller said, in reference to his 11-reception, 122-yard game against Houston on Sunday. "I didn't even know a lot of them and they were like, 'Hey, good game.' It's nice to get that kind of recognition."
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt also went out of his way to pull aside Miller after their game against the Raiders on Sept. 26 and tell him, "Good game."
People in these parts learned about Miller's receiving prowess as early as 2007, when his 44 receptions set the Raiders' rookie record for a tight end.
Miller has 22 catches for 278 yards and two touchdowns, putting him on pace to finish with 88 receptions for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns. His career highs are 66 catches for 805 yards and three touchdowns, all last season.
Perhaps more remarkable, Miller flourished his first three seasons when Oakland's passing attack was among the league's worst.
This season, teams can't devote as much attention toward Miller with second-year wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy playing more consistently and running back Darren McFadden's emergence as a threat out of the backfield.
"It's nice having those weapons around you, because teams can't just say, 'Hey, stop 80, stop 80,' " Miller said.
That doesn't mean teams are ignoring Miller. He still sees his share of double coverage, especially on third-down and red-zone plays.
Yet, even that isn't enough to stop Miller at times. Coach Tom Cable said Miller has developed into a matchup nightmare for opponents.
"You have to defend him," Cable said. "You flat out have to, or he can almost beat you (single-handedly)."
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has wasted little time making Miller a go-to receiver since Gradkowski replaced Jason Campbell midway through the second game.
"Zach is such a good football player," Gradkowski said. "He catches a 2-yard route and turns it into 10 yards. Guys are bouncing off him, he gets hit three or four times. "... Anytime you can get it into his hands, you want to."
Chargers coach Norv Turner has made Gates the focal point of his offense this season. He said he notices the Raiders doing likewise with Miller.
"He runs all the routes, and he's gotten a great feel for the defense and getting open and finding the soft sports," Turner said of Miller. "And the scheme is awfully tight-end friendly and allows the tight end to do a lot of things."
To that, Miller says: finally.
"The last couple of years, I felt like there were times where I could have been used more, but I was either blocking for protection or just not as big of a focal point," Miller said. "Then, defenses were able to take me away once I started having success. They started really keying on me. It was tough the last couple years because I wanted to kind of showcase my skills and sometimes I wasn't able to."