Sometimes there are things that football players do almost too well. Rushing the passer would be that thing for Texas A&M’s Von Miller. After leading the nation with 17.5 sacks in 2009, Miller overcame an early season ankle injury this past season to still post 10.5 sacks. Miller had 39 tackles for loss the past two seasons as well as seven forced fumbles and even had a handful of pass breakups, but some observers saw Miller as a ‘one trick pony.’
Even Miller knows what his calling card is, but he believes his game is much more than that.
“My God-given ability is speed off the edge, just rushing,” he said. “I can drop back into coverage and do all that other stuff, too, but what God has blessed me with is pass rushing off the edge.”
That’s why it surprised some when Miller accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl. As an outside linebacker, Miller would not be able to showcase his elite pass rushing skills. With blitzing prohibited in the Senior Bowl game the Aggie pass rusher would be forced to execute all the duties of a linebacker, except putting pressure on the quarterback. Ironically, it proved to be the best thing for NFL scouts to witness.
Miller showed an ability to cover running backs and tight ends in the flat and though a bit raw at least proved to be athletic enough to drop deep. It also helped to validate why his sack numbers decreased his senior season.
“I had more responsibilities this year, more responsibilities in coverage,” he said. “We were winning games, so the sacks really didn’t matter to me. As long as we were winning games, I was good.”
Voted a team captain his senior season, Miller again helped himself when he tipped the scales at 246 at the NFL combine in February. There were concerns about whether Miller could hold up against the run as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 at 237 pounds. Adding almost 10 pounds and losing none of his trademark burst and speed solidified his stock as a top five draft choice.
“I didn’t even know I put on that weight,” said Miller. “I was just working hard just trying to maximize days, finish all my reps and eating all my food. I was just trying to work out at the best of my ability. I hadn’t weighed myself for about a week and half. I stepped on the scale and it said, ‘246’, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I just want to get bigger, stronger, faster, and I guess I’m really bigger.”
At 246 Miller may also be projected by some 4-3 teams as a possible defensive end, something that wouldn’t even be considered 10 years ago.
“There’s not as many 330 pound defensive linemen that we’ve seen in the past,” said NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi. “Again the college game has become such a horizontal game that you need speed and athleticism. So when you see a guy like Von Miller at 237, there was a time where you wanted a 250 pound defensive end. So I think it’s completely changed with that athleticism.”
At A&M Miller played a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role, but he was always up in a two-point stance. Adjusting to full time outside linebacker should not prove to be much of an adjustment knowing whatever team drafts him is bound to have him at the line anyway ready to put heat on the quarterback. But there will be coverage responsibilities at times with opposing offenses likely to use pre-snap shifts to put a raw coverage player like Miller in a cover role.
“The 3-4 outside linebacker has to be able to adjust and play in space so he has to play on the second level,” said Lombardi. “In Pittsburgh, James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley drop so you have to be athletic enough to go out there and it can’t be one of those situations where we’re just going to drop him and even though he can’t cover anybody, no big deal. It becomes very difficult. You have to be able to cover and rush.”
As far as Bills head coach Chan Gailey is concerned, after watching him perform in practice and the game at the Senior Bowl on his South team, he’s convinced Miller is as versatile as they come.
“Von Miller could fit in any defense,” he said. “He’s one of the few guys that I happened to see watching T.V. this season and he’s an explosive football player. I think he’s going to be a good get for whoever gets him. He’d help us just like he’d help a lot of people."
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock believes Miller would be an excellent fit and value for Buffalo with the third overall pick.
“I think that Von Miller from Texas A&M is the prototype 34 rush linebacker,” he said. “He’s got an amazing ability to have a great get off and quickness but to bend his body and twist and turn and flatten the corner and get to the quarterback.
I think he makes a lot of sense for Buffalo on the defensive side. . I think if you’re sitting there with Buffalo and you don’t go quarterback, there’s an awful lot of playmaking defensive players to pick from whether it’s (Nick) Fairley, Marcell Dareus, but I think Von Miller or Patrick Peterson make a ton of sense.”
And it’s clear that Miller would like to hear his name called as early as possible.
“It’s motivation to go out and be the best football player you can be,” he said. “I don’t want to just be in the category of 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 linebackers I want to be the best defensive player in this year’s draft. That may be in a 3-4, a 4-3, a 5-2, I just want to play football and get on the field.”