Tim DeRuyter knows how he wants this whole thing to work. Maybe it takes the offense a sack or two to figure it out, but Von Miller's 16.5 in 2009 should serve as plenty of notice.
Maybe Miller will be lurking behind a three-man front. Maybe he'll be in a three-point stance, his new trick as part of the "Joker" position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. But at some point, an offense will be ready to double team him, and DeRuyter will be ready with a counter, a last-minute switch to a different blitz with different personnel while Miller drops back into coverage.
"He’s one of those wild cards, that someone absolutely has to game plan for, and if they do," DeRuyter said, "We’ve got some answers for them."
DeRuyter, Texas A&M's defensive coordinator, is enjoying his new toy in Miller, a player he says is by far the most talented he's ever coached. And Miller, a speedy 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, is about to become the Big 12's quintessential "hybrid" defender, in the mold of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Jerome Harrison or the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, who finished 1-2 in the race for the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. For the increasingly popular 3-4 scheme, players with Miller's skill set and talents have perhaps never been more valuable.
"It gives you the flexibility of being in a four man front and a three-man front and not have to change personnel while you’re bouncing between schemes and make it simple enough to understand so it makes an offense work on their protections," DeRuyter said. "They change, and you can change right before the snap and make them think.
"And if the offense is thinking, maybe you can get half a step on them and beat someone off an edge."
It's been a welcome change for Miller, who estimates he'll be back in coverage 60 percent of the time this year, and blitzing around 40 percent. DeRuyter, it should be noted, insists the ratio will be purely situational.
"It puts me in better situations to get mismatches and one-on-ones. I’m more of a football player this year instead of just a pass rusher," Miller said. "Last year, I just had a drop and they just said, 'Drop to the flats.' But now, I have to drop to the flats, play off the safety and corner, watch the slot receiver. It's a lot more technical."
Last season, Miller rushed almost exclusively from the right side, right past opposing left tackles. He'll be constantly moving now, and forcing offense's eyes to follow him. That could mean he might be in a three-point stance on either side of the line, or in a two-point stance on the offense's weak or strong side.
"The key is keeping it simple enough for him that he’s not thinking too much. We get him thinking too much, then it slows him down and if he’s slowing down, we’re not very smart as coaches," DeRuyter said. "We’re going to try to make it so it’s hard for an offense to figure out, but it’s easy for Von to figure out."
And if they can pull that off and improve on a defense that ranked last in the Big 12 in 2009, everyone wins -- except the Aggies opponents.
"Having an edge pressure guy like him is going to make him a guy who has an opportunity to be a playmaker for us. We can isolate him on pass rush and he’s athletic enough where if guys double team him, we can drop him back into coverage and we don’t lose a thing," DeRuyter said. "It’s a definite change from what he was doing before, so there’s a learning curve there. It's something I think he perceives himself at the next level of being able to do, so it’s kind of given him a leg up on showing people he’s athletic enough to drop and cover a No. 2 receiver -- and pass rush against some of the best tackles anywhere and win. You’ve got multiple things where a 3-4 can help you."