Catching on

The fact that Alabama was desperately in need of wide receivers heading into spring was hardly a secret, and so far at least veteran walk-on Matt Miller has taken advantage of the opportunity. <br><br>"If the ball is coming to me, I've got to make the catch," was how he put it.

Sometimes fans assume that football is more complicated than it is. Yes, modern passing schemes require hours of film study and practice-field reps to get the timing down. But no matter the complexity (or simplicity) of a team's offense, it comes down to throwing and catching the football.

"It doesn't matter if I'm getting hit or not, I make the catch," Miller said.

He started the first day of spring, displaying a fierce determination to catch the football no matter what. And Miller will emerge from spring drills listed as one of the Tide's top four receivers.

Tide Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader has been impressed by the effort. "You've got to give ‘props' to Matt Miller," Rader said. "Some of the things that Matt does are obvious to the fans, but a lot of the time they don't see what he does in the run game.

"He's a strong blocker."

2004 will mark Miller's fourth season on campus, and he knows better than most how tough it is for a walk-on to earn playing time on the field. He saw action in 11 games last season--but his snaps were on special teams. Now consistently taking reps with the first-team offense, Miller has been walking on air.

Matt Miller (#37) catches the ball then cuts upfield at practice.

"It's been a real blessing," he acknowledged. "I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. This is what I've dreamed about. Just having the opportunity--I thrive on it. I don't want to mess up. I make myself nervous sometimes over little stuff."

Miller's ties to Alabama run deep. Father (Noah Dean, '73), grandfather (Floyd, ‘48-'49) and brother (Marc, ‘01-'02) all played for the Tide. And two generations plus of Millers own degrees from The Capstone.

Like his brother Marc, Matt originally arrived on campus playing quarterback. Also like Marc, he's already contributed on special teams. But Matt is looking for more.

"The way I look at it there's nothing I can do to make the coaches look bad," Miller said in explaining his spring philosophy. "I don't have to make spectacular plays, but I'm not making a negative. I go full-out on every play. I want to let the coaches know that I want it more than anybody out there."

Miller knows the drill. Most walk-ons are lucky if they make it onto the field at the end of games during mop-up duty. But with Bama's desperate need at wide receiver, he's aiming for more.

"It all started in winter workouts," he related. "That was our team conditioning drills. I've been here for three coaches, and with every coach--even with the littlest thing like a wind sprint--I want to finish first. I'm not the fastest guy, but I want to finish first."

Miller knew that Mike Shula and his staff would be looking for athletes willing to pay the price.

Shown talking to a reporter after a scrimmage, Miller has worked with the first-string offense for most of spring.

He continued, "Winter conditioning got the ball rolling. I knew the coaches were watching closely. I wasn't going to let myself slack off. I want to finish with flying colors. Let them see that I'm the real deal and that I want to play."

Standing a legitimate 6-3 and weighing right at 200 pounds, Miller presents a bigger target than most of Bama's top wideouts.

He talked about his role. "I really think I am the across-the-middle guy now," Miller said. "We have a ‘bronco' slot with four wide receivers. It starts sometimes with me in the backfield. I'm comfortable there, having to beat a linebacker. Then I'll slip across the middle and take a hit on a dive play.

"I know my limitations. I'm not the go-to guy on third-and-fifteen with them trying to go deep. I see myself as that inside guy. The blocker."

Miller understands that everyone can't be a star, but he also knows that there is plenty of work for athletes willing to play a specific role. In Bama's first scrimmage two weeks ago, he showed fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium what he had been showing on the practice fields, catching three passes for 40 yards. Last week in 7-on-7 work, Miller hauled in two touchdown passes from Brodie Croyle.

"I came in as a quarterback, but I'm much happier (at wideout)," he continued. "We've got some smaller, quick, big-play receivers: Tyrone Prothro, Matt Caddell, ‘Lil B' (Brandon Brooks). They're all real quick guys with great footwork. But sometimes you need a bigger target going across the middle."

A fourth-year junior, Miller also plays the role of veteran to the Tide's mostly young receiving corps.

Miller (#37) caught two TD passes in 7-on-7 work last Saturday.

He commented, "Me and ‘Lil B,' we both came in together and stuck together. We've gotten close the past couple of years. Being in the top group and working with the younger guys is good. Everybody is coming along slowly but surely."

Currently listed no worse than second-string on the depth chart, it's possible that Miller will be considered for a scholarship next fall. "I haven't heard anything, but I hope so," he acknowledged. "Marc would have had one his fifth year, but he left (for Dental School)."

Miller knows he's not the fastest or most talented athlete playing receiver. And next fall several extremely gifted candidates are set to join the squad. But so long as there is a role for him on the team, he's more than happy to play it.

"He's a big young man; Matt Miller is going to help us," Rader stated firmly. "He's been in the right position this spring and has made several nice catches. You like having Matt Miller around."

"I'll be a role player; I don't care about that," Miller concluded. "My dream is to play for Alabama. Whatever I need to do, I'll do."

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