Before the Buffalo Bills broke the huddle one play this spring, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer had a message for his front five.
“He said we have to be the ones to carry this team,” right guard John Miller said. “That’s true.”
A major piece of that puzzle will be Miller.
The left side of the offensive line is set from tackle to center. The right side of the line? Not quite. But if Miller delivers in his second season, there’s no reason this line can’t carry the Bills in 2016. A year ago, they led the NFL in rushing at 152 yards per game. This year, it’ll be counting more on the 6-foot-2, 303-pound Miller. If he can pull more, if he can take on tackles 1 on 1, Greg Roman's playbook will open up even more.
Miller endured plenty of ups and downs through 12 starts in 2015, fighting through the painful loss of his mother and a high ankle sprain. This off-season — his first true full NFL off-season — he completely changed his diet, got stronger in the weight room and has broken his job down to a science.
The Bills hope the outcome is stability. They’ll want to run the ball in a multitude of ways with LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor and company.
As Miller explains, he more fully understands how to take on a defensive tackle positioned in a 1-technique, a 3-technique or head up. Picking Richie Incognito's brain daily helped.
“Asking him different things and asking him how he approached different things," Miller said. "You’ve got a guy who made the Pro Bowl, a guy who’s been a dominant offensive guard in this league. So I look at a lot of things he did and try to imitate it. Try to break it down and use it to the best of my ability. Everything is technical to me right now whether that’s footwork in the run game, head placement, all those different things help me improve my game.”
Most people associate “footwork” with a player dotting I’s on a virtual quick-foot ladder, he continued, “just going crazy on it.” But that’s not the case here. By “footwork,” Miller means precise timing on how he approaches a block.
Knowing how to step. Knowing how center Eric Wood will step. Knowing how to execute a double team.
“He might play off me, he might try to protect the gap, he might try to split us, he might try to read it,” Miller said. “So there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. We try to approach our block based off what the defense is doing and capitalize off that.”
He’ll take a normal off-season, too.
As last season’s 8-8 roller-coaster slogged along, Miller hit the rookie wall. It’s nearly inevitable for all rooks who go from a bowl game ... to pre-Combine training ... to the Combine ... to pre-draft visits ... to the draft ... to rookie camp, to OTA’s, to minicamp, to training camp, to the season. So rather than prep for a 40-yard dash and cone drills this time, Miller was able to train for actual football games his six weeks with the Bills’ training staff before OTA’s. He threw up 315 pounds 14 times on the bench press, a number he couldn’t reach last year.
At the dinner table, he's staying away from red meats. OK, so he snuck in a steak for Father’s Day with his Dad but for the most part Miller is sticking with a chicken-and-fish diet. He’ll steam some carrots, broccoli or asparagus and mix in some potatoes for starch fix.
“The thing about (red meat) is it’s heavy,” Miller said. “That thick meat, it’s hard for your body to break it down. It kind of stays in your digestive system a little too long — so it’s harder to burn that off.”
The Bills were impressed immediately with the Louisville prospect last year. He blew them away on the white board during his pre-draft visit, was taken 81st overall and then instantly plugged in with the No. 1 offense.
A turbulent first year is now behind him. Losing his mother mid-season took a major emotional toll on Miller.
By Week 1 in Baltimore, he's aiming to be a different player. The Bills certainly will be putting more responsibility on his shoulders.
Kromer made it clear in minicamp.
“I just go into thinking we have to play our best game in and game out,” Miller said. “We have to go out there and do our jobs. We don’t have to make it more complex than it already is. The game is already hard enough to play. So you just have to go out there and do your job, execute, hit on all cylinders and at the end of the day you look at the scoreboard and hope everything has fallen into place.”