PITTSFORD – John Miller could go a long way toward alleviating one of the biggest concerns for the Buffalo Bills in 2018.
After losing veteran center Eric Wood and Pro Bowl left guard Richie Incognito – as well as trading away left tackle Cordy Glenn – there is angst among members of Bills Mafia about how the offensive line will hold up.
“Losing those guys hurt, but we have a great group of guys here,” Miller said. “In that room, we have a lot of guy that are more capable of getting the job done.”
The Bills didn’t feel that way about Miller in 2017. He lost the starting right guard job he had held for the previous two seasons after just four games to veteran Vlad Ducasse. Miller has owned those shortcomings this offseason.
“It was my job to lose and unfortunately I didn't do enough to keep it,” he said. “That's in the past. I'm far beyond that. Right now, I'm just focused on coming out here each and every day and proving to my teammates and the coaching staff that I'm the guy for the job.”
Miller is off to a good start in that regard. He has been the starting right guard through the first three days of training camp at St. John Fisher College, and has looked every bit the part. On Saturday, the first day the team was in pads, he dominated during one-on-one drills against the defensive line, drawing applause and cheers from his offensive line mates after showing textbook technique against Adolphus Washington.
“New year, new opportunity, new mindset,” Miller said. “The new mindset for me is having that focus, and that determination every play. The mindset to go out there and dominate each and every day.”
Miller had a trying rookie season. The analytics website Pro Football Focus graded him 63rd out of 66 guards who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps. While the team was in London, Miller learned that his mother had passed away.
After those personal and professional challenges, Miller put together a solid 2016, starting every game. He finished 23rd among 61 guards graded by PFF using the 50-percent threshold. He wasn’t able to build on that last year, however, as the Bills changed their entire coaching staff, starting with Sean McDermott taking over for Rex Ryan.
Although Miller was the starter heading into 2017, that lasted only a month.
“He had a tough year last year,” right tackle Jordan Mills said. “I was there to help him get through it. When he faced adversity, he never quit. He never just went through the motions. Every day, every practice he gave it his all.”
McDermott has noticed that approach.
“He looks like, since the time he has come back in the spring, he’s focused, he understands what is expected,” the coach said. “I appreciate the way he handled last season. He’s a guy that has played a number of snaps in the NFL. I think he’s in a good place mentally.”
The Bills have shifted Ducasse over to the left side to fill the hole left by Incognito’s departure, with Miller back in his old spot.
“He's getting exactly what he deserves,” Mills said. “He comes out here early every day, working his ... off, fighting and competing. Just the tenacity he's shown and the resiliency, it's great to see him smiling and happy. He's one of the leaders on this team and it's great to have my guy back next to me.”
Miller spent the offseason training at Bommarito Performance Systems in his hometown of Miami. He also hosted his second annual football camp. Most importantly, however, he was able to be close to family, particularly his father, Johnnie.
“My dad is my rock,” Miller said. “He's the guy that has always been there for me. He actually got me started playing football when I was 7 years old. If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I would be at in life.”
If Miller can once again be the player who looked to have a bright future, it will be mutually beneficial. He’s heading into the final year of his contract.
“You mentioned that I got the starting position. Well, everything is up for grabs out here,” he said. “My biggest thing is coming out here and competing.”