We're a long, long way from pads popping at training camp, but if rookie guard John Miller can stay on the track he's traveling right now, he could be in Buffalo's starting lineup come September.
Buffalo's third-round pick has been on top of anything and everything that's been thrown at him in the classroom and taught on the practice field through the course of the team's offseason conditioning program. Right now it's just a walk-through setting on the practice field with no opposing defense, per NFL rules this time of year, but Miller has played his cards right to this point.
"He might be the opening guy there," said head coach Rex Ryan in a radio interview on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 Tuesday morning. "He's been very impressive. I think right now that's the most important thing just because we're not going up against anybody. But this guy has a big, wide, square body and we are hitting bags and his technique is pretty good. He has really been impressive.
"For a kid you just took out of college, he jumps right in and he doesn't make mistakes. So I think that's going to give him an opportunity to showcase what he can do physically and I think he has the right makeup to be an outstanding player."
Miller has spent a good deal of time with the starting unit while free agent signee has seen most of the time at the other guard spot through on field walk through sessions. Veteran Chris Williams, who started at guard last year before a back injury landed him on injured reserve, has chosen not to attend the voluntary offseason program. And Kraig Urbik is filling more of a hybrid center-guard combination role at this stage.
That's left the door open for Miller and he's walked right through it.
"John has shown to adapt the quickest from the group," said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. "I told them right from the beginning that the guys who block the right guy right now… we're going against painted spots on the field to simulate a defense. They have to step to the right guy, use their hands correctly and the right footwork. He did that early and more often than other guys so he got the opportunity to be in there with that group."
Knowing the true evaluation of offensive linemen will come when the pads go on in training camp, Kromer is hesitant to nail down any roles just yet.
"We're going to continue to rotate," said Kromer. "He won't get all the first team reps and neither will anyone else. We're going to give everybody a shot so it's a fair competition and fair means the guys that earn that opportunity will continue to get it."
Buffalo's offensive staff had an idea that Miller might adapt to the NFL game rather quickly based on his pre-draft visit to One Bills Drive.
"When he came in here for a visit, he blew us away," said offensive coordinator Greg Roman. "Blew me away, and Kromer the same, with his football IQ. I walked out of the meeting with him and I went to Rex and said, 'This guy knows the offense better than me.' I was semi-exaggerating. But he did a great job there and that's the kind of guys we want. This guy has come in and has not blinked and for a rookie o-linemen that's pretty impressive."
"The most important thing I've tried to take from it all was really learning the coaching techniques, the coaching points," said Miller. "It's good like that because it's kind of slowed down. You kind of get a good feel for what you want to do and what coach wants from you."
Miller feels the time he's spent on the practice field with the starters has only shortened his learning curve all the more. And so long as his physical ability is on par with his mental processing of the game when the pads go on, he stands a solid chance of being known more as a starting guard than a first-year player. "It makes it feel more real to be out there taking snaps with the ones," Miller told Buffalobills.com. "I definitely pride myself on being a student of the game. I'm focused on learning the game, the new techniques and the system. That way when I step on the field I don't look like a rookie."