Miller knows 'jack' as he thrives in hybrid role
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Von Miller is living a defensive player's dream.
After struggling to find a niche earlier in his career, Miller now is thriving in the "jack" role in Texas A&M's new defensive philosophy as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end.
His responsibilities in the Aggies' reformulated defense will center on one central and overriding theme -- repeated pressure on rival quarterbacks.
"I've always thought of myself as a pass-rush type of guy," Miller said. "The jack position makes you like a designated blitzer on every play. It's really plays to my strength to rush off the edge. It's something I can do on every play."
Miller has excelled in Texas A&M's early spring practices, creating havoc as the most consistently disruptive force in the Aggies' defense.
"They have taken my strengths and everything that I do well and just told me to go out and do it," Miller said.
His development will be critical after A&M's defensive struggles last season. The Aggies ranked 108th or lower nationally in all four of the major team defensive statistical categories: rushing defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense.
The Aggies repeatedly struggled making big plays during a disappointing 4-8 season, ranking 100th in sacks, 97th in tackles for losses and tied for 97th in turnovers created.
Miller, who led the team with 3.5 sacks last season as a sophomore, should have a better chance to become a prime player from his new position.
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman envisions that Miller would be ideal for the jack role because of his speed and athleticism.
Flashes of that ability were shown at times last season, although Miller did get bogged down with some of the aspects of defensive coordinator Joe Kines' tactics.
"We tried to do too much with him last year and that caused some confusion and hesitancy," Sherman said. "I take responsibility for that. But he's really playing well so far and he's still a presence out there."
That might be putting it lightly. During a recent A&M practice, the speedy Miller was a terror as he repeatedly skipped past larger blockers to pressure quarterbacks.
Some might wonder if Sherman's strategy will work over the long-term. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Miller will be considerably smaller than many of the fullbacks he will be matched up against, much less some opposing offensive linemen who will outweigh him by more than 100 pounds.
But Sherman said the Big 12's current strategies make players like Miller able to thrive against spread offenses.
"Nobody in the Big 12 is really powering the ball inside," Sherman said. "Oklahoma does it a little bit, but most of the running in this conference is east-west. You don't see a lot of power football like you do in the SEC."
That realization helped convince Sherman that a smaller, quicker player like Miller would be valuable if his team was careful about where he was aligned.
"You have to be able to rush the quarterback this league and we're trying to get our best pass rushers in a position to do that," Sherman said.
In a basic four-man front, Miller is lined up as a standup defensive end. And in a three-man front he's an outside linebacker who can blitz, but also cover and drop into pass coverage.
That multiplicity of roles is counted on to confuse offensive linemen who won't know where Miller or another A&M jack player might be on any given play.
"From an offensive line coach's perspective, when you have the ability to switch it really creates some problems in targeting blocking for your line and can cause you issues in pass protection," Sherman said. "I think it can help us create a couple of plays here and there that maybe wouldn't have been there if we hadn't been using it."
Miller has patterned his game after Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who is similarly known for his disruptive pass-rushing abilities.
Teammates envision Miller's pressure being a critical element to improvement for the defense.
"I know I, at safety, love it, especially when Von comes off the edge," Texas A&M senior free safety Jordan Pugh said. "It helps me out when we put more speed and pressure on the quarterback. That's great for our defense."
Another season working with Kines is building a sense of unity among the Aggies' defense that was missing last season.
"Instead of having a bunch of independent contractors, it feels like everybody is together," Miller said. "I think the results will be there when we start playing."