That’s because there’s a good chance in the near future he could be playing without pain, something the Jaguars’ defensive tackle played through pretty much all of last season.
“I’m just excited,” Miller said Monday at EverBank Field, where the sixth-year veteran continues to rehabilitate from offseason shoulder (labrum) surgery.
“I feel like I can take some more steps, especially with a healthy shoulder.”
His first step toward that came shortly after last season.
Miller, after starting 14 games in 2013 – his first season with the Jaguars after signing as an unrestricted free agent last March – underwent surgery in mid-January to repair a torn labrum. Miller said doctors placed 8-to-10 anchors/ties around the injured area, and that his range of motion six weeks later is good.
His focus now, he said, is on improving strength and though he said no specific timetable has been set for a return, he expects to be ready for training camp.
“I can do things I couldn’t do last year,” he said. “It’s definitely getting better. It’s improving. My strength is already better. I feel so much better than I did last year.”
Miller, who played his first four seasons with Tampa Bay, was expected to be one of the team’s top free-agent acquisitions last offseason. He proved to be that, and started the first 14 games of the season.
But aside from the first three games, each of those starts came in difficult circumstances.
Miller said he took a weird hit in a Week 3 loss at Seattle and “heard something pop” in his right shoulder. He said he knew it wasn’t good and when he tried a rip move on the ensuing play, the pain was such that “I thought I was done for the year.”
“I was nervous, scared,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to go on IR.’”
Instead, he played through the pain, changing how he played in an effort to compensate for the injury.
“I tried to get off the ball quicker so I could use my left hand to get more power out of that,” Miller said. “I just knew I had to attack it a different way.”
Not the ideal way to play against the world’s best offensive linemen.
“It took some time to learn to play like that,” he said. “It really affected the way I could get off a block, or when it came to pass rushing, once I got my hands on the blocker, it was hard to shed. I just tried to do anything I could to disrupt my gap and fight through everything else.
“If you don’t have an arm, it’s crazy. You’ve got double teams with guards banging on your shoulder. I was doing things like throwing my back into it instead of a shoulder. It was crazy.”
Miller said he continued to play not only for love of the game, but a belief he could fight through the situation. He also said that as a team leader and veteran, he needed to play. And then in the second half of the season, with the Jaguars winning four of five games after a 0-8 start, football was a whole lot of fun for a while.
“We were doing some things,” he said. “You could see the team start to develop and gain confidence. I felt like the pregame speeches and things like that … I just didn’t want to let the team down. Even when I didn’t feel I could play, I felt I had to find a way and focus and not think about the shoulder.
“It was tough. As a leader of the team, it’s hard to lead when you’re unsure about your own playing. The pain and dealing with that was pretty rough.”
Miller finished the season with 25 tackles and four tackles for loss, and while coaches lauded his play and perseverance, he said the season was difficult.
“You’re coming to a new team,” Miller said. “I’m already critical of myself, so to go out there and not be able to be 100 percent – you feel like you’re hurting the team even if the coaches are telling you you’re playing well. My whole mindset is I want to do my job and help out in another area.
“That’s what takes defenses to another level, when you have guys do their job, then do a little more. It’s frustrating, because you want to and you can’t. You just have to give it all you got and hope you help the team win.”
Miller said he also noticed teams focusing on the injury more and more as the season continued.
“As I started not practicing during the week, I felt teams trying to try that side out, running more plays to that side,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing those teams. That’s part of the game. You know a guy is hurt and you go after that weakness.”
Miller said it’s his hope to very much not be a weakness next season. He said he likes the style of defense the Jaguars are playing under Head Coach Gus Bradley, and that he expects to be in a better situation this offseason to prepare than he was last year, when he was limited in organized team activities with a knee injury.
“I’m looking forward to getting another step, and gaining some more knowledge into this defense,” Miller said. “This year, I’ll be more effective. With a healthy shoulder, I’m looking forward to giving a lot more to this team. I like everything that’s going on; I like the people we’ve got in place. We all need to get on the same page. Young players come in and get their feet wet, but we’ve got to make them understand that we’ve got to win now.
“As a leader, I want to be out there. It stinks watching the team develop without your presence out there. I’m looking forward to being out there, and whenever that is, I hope it’s soon.”