Patience often is a virtue — a necessity, even — for Alabama football players. Christian Miller is being lauded as a likely successor to Ryan Anderson as the Crimson Tide’s strong side linebacker, but it has taken him some time to get there.
Miller is an upcoming fourth-year junior, and looks much different than he did when he arrived at Alabama in 2014.
He’s still about 6-4, but instead of 205 pounds he is up to 240.
“I’m a lot stronger now,” he said. “I feel like I’m more confident in the run game. I feel more explosive, too. The weight hasn’t affected me at all. I’m probably faster as well. I feel good.”
But that begs the important question: Can he still do backflips?
“I can still do them,” he said. “Not at practice. I don’t think Coach Saban would be a fan of that.”
Alabama Coach Nick Saban does seem to be a fan of how Miller has developed as a football player. “Christian has done a good job,” Saban said this spring. “I think he’s gained a little weight, gotten a little stronger. He’s been in the program for a while so I think he’s really got a lot of good knowledge and experience. I think the thing we’ve always tried to do is get him strong enough that he can go out there and sustain playing at the point. I think he’s made an improvement in that area and certainly can help us in the pass rush category. That’s something that getting a little bigger, helping him turn speed into power, and that’ll be certainly something that would help him be a more effect rusher. We’re pleased with the progress that he’s made.”
Miller came to Alabama from Spring Valley High in Columbia, S.C., as a four-star outside linebacker ranked fifth in the nation at his position. After a redshirt season in 2014, he saw limited playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and became part of the Tide linebacker rotation and a regular on special teams last season, getting in on 16 tackles and recording two sacks and four quarterback pressures.
Miller wasn’t surprised that he’s had to wait his turn. “It’s kind of what I expected,” he said. “Coming in and competing and just working to be the best I can. That’s what I’ve done and it’s starting to pay off. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been fun.”
Bama lost the top two outside linebackers from last year’s 14-1 team that won the Southeastern Conference championship, but Miller said there’s no looking back.
This year’s group is “hard working,” he said. “It’s kind of similar. You have similar body frames. The athleticism is still there.
“We just have to start picking up more leadership in our group. That comes from older guys like me. That’s something I want to do. I want to be more of a leader. I haven’t had to say too much since I’ve been more of a younger guy that last couple of years; I want to step up like those guys did and help the younger guys like they did to me.”
Miller said he has always been a leader by example, but needs to be more vocal. “I didn’t want to overstep boundaries, but now that I’m in a position to step up, it’s been more helpful just to vocally help people to learn the system off the field or even just helping them out routinely just to make things easier.”
Alabama Outside Linebackers Coach Tosh Lupoi gave his group an assignment that Miller thinks will be beneficial.
He said, “We had a thing where we pair up with somebody in our group and we wrote out two things that we think they are doing extremely well and two things that they could possibly work on. We exchanged them, just helping each other out. That way, they’re not just hearing it from a coach. We’re hearing it from each other.”
What did they tell you you needed to work on?
“I’ll be honest, I actually came in there late because I had to do treatment that day. But…”
They didn’t pile on, did they?
“No, no, no, no. Honestly, I haven’t looked at mine yet. We literally just did this. We didn’t have an open discussion about it, just kind of looked at it. I need to go look at mine.”
Think punctuality will be on there?
“I have no idea.”
Was it tough to write down something about what need to improve on for whoever’s name you drew?
“It was a little tough, but it was more like — I wouldn’t even say tough love, because it’s really not to criticize in any way. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re awful at doing this.’ It’s not by any means that. No. It’s really like ‘I think this could make you be a better player.’ I think that’s what it was all about. I think it was good to hear this from your own teammate, not just your coach.”
Last year Alabama’s defense turned in 54 sacks for 433 yards in losses. But the Tide lost players who contributed 36 of those sacks for 320 yards.
As for who makes up those numbers this season, Miller said, “I think it could be a number of guys. We’ve probably got more athleticism than we’ve had it recent years. Whoever can get in and make a play is going to be playing.
“Do I think it could be me? I have confidence in myself, I do. But it’s like Coach Saban tells us, it’s not always about making sacks. Sometimes you just need to affect the quarterback, and that’s what we’re working on. It’s not always about the numbers. There are also other ways you can put up stats that may not be on paper.”
He said he is “very comfortable” playing the strongside (Sam) linebacker position. “That’s kind of something I’ve done for awhile,” he said. “That’s something that kind of fits my game. I can cover tight ends. I can drop. I can play the edge. That’s honest. That’s what I do. So I’m very comfortable there.”