The 2017 season is one that John Miller is all too happy to forget.
After being a two-year starter, Miller saw his right guard role go to veteran Vladimir Ducasse a month into the season and never got it back. He also suffered a season-ending injury midway through the season in practice of all places and finished the year on injured reserve.
"Last year was frustrating not only the situation that happened on the field, but I went through some things off the field," Miller told Buffalobills.com. "I won't get into depth about that, but it was a learning experience and a humbling experience for me as well because I wanted to be out there with my teammates. But this year I'm starting over, we're starting fresh. I'm taking it as a new opportunity."
Miller immersed himself in heavy offseason training, determined to convince Buffalo's coaching staff that he was worthy of a spot in the starting lineup.
"What I wanted to do was get back to my roots," said Miller. "So I went back to where I started training for the combine as a rookie. And I was hitting it hard, hitting it hard and training my a-- off."
The Miami native went to renowned physical trainer Pete Bommarito's facility in south Florida and got to work.
"I changed my diet plan. I tried to lean up," he said. "Different stuff like that and working my craft. Staying square, punching with two hands and making sure I'm taking the right steps in the run game. Making sure I'm getting my second step down, bringing my back knee and my hand to contact and bowing my neck. Just different things like that."
He also got some encouraging words from his former teammate and fellow Louisville alum, Eric Wood, when the two talked following Wood's sudden retirement due to a career-ending neck injury.
"He just told me, 'Keep your head up and keep fighting because a new year is coming up and you want to keep the past in the past. So focus on growing and getting better for next year and the journey ahead,'" said Miller.
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The former third-round pick showed up at Buffalo's offseason conditioning program in mid-April at a svelte 308 pounds with 23 percent body fat, at the very low end for offensive linemen who typically range from 24 to 28 percent.
"I feel leaner. I feel more conditioned," he said. "That was a bit priority for me, getting in that tip-top shape."
Buffalo's coaching staff took notice. So much so that they re-inserted him into the starting lineup at right guard and flipped Ducasse to left guard following the departure of Richie Incognito earlier this offseason.
But don't tell Miller he's back at home despite being at the same position he's manned since his rookie year for the Bills.
"I hate that phrase that it's like being back home again," he said. "That means you're comfortable and content. I wouldn't use that phrase. I prefer calling it right where I need to be."
Miller had come around to adopting coach McDermott's mantra that everything is earned. His offseason work on his own got him the opportunity to man the starting right guard spot for now, but after how last season went he knows there are no guarantees in May.
"Nothing is going to be given to me or anybody else, so I'm coming out with the mindset of earning it. Earn the right to win is one of the phrases we use here, so you want to go out and put your best foot forward," he said. "Every day isn't going to be perfect, but just having that growth mindset of getting better each and every day."
For Miller, he finds his most effective approach is a simple one. Just focus on a few key parts of his game each day and work on those after studying his play on film.
"I wrote down in my notebook, being square, second step," he said. "So you take a few things from watching the film, jot it down and boom that's my plan when I go out there. You just focus on two or three things you can get better on and then when you watch it on film it shows up and you keep doing it over and over."
And Miller hopes that constant repetition will allow him to repeat the success he experienced his first two years in the league when he showed promising potential.
"Every time I step out there for practice I want to show the coaches and the GM and my teammates that I want to be here," he said. "That I belong and just go out every Sunday and compete at a high level."