Miller Learning Lessons As NFL Rookie

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Arkansas linebacker Caleb Miller made a small confession last week.

The Cincinnati rookie, who will play in his 10th game when the Bengals meet Buffalo today, admitted he never taped his ankles while he was with the Razorbacks. Miller didn't like it and never had ankle problems, so joked that he "satisfied the football Gods" and the Arkansas coaches by occasionally putting on some stretch tape before stepping on the field.

"But it's funny," Miller said. "I get up here and have these stupid ankle problems."

Miller's first season in professional football is one the Sulphur Springs, Texas, native admits he'll never forget, but most of it has been plagued of nagging ankle injuries that held him out of five games. That hasn't stopped Miller from justifying coach Marvin Lewis' decision to select him in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, who was viewed too small to play linebacker in the NFL, has started three games and is 12th on the team with 29 tackles (18 assisted, 11 unassisted). Miller was pressed into early duty because of various injuries and has learned plenty in his first season in the NFL.

"Somebody else told me this and it makes sense, it's not always the country's best players that last," Miller said. "It's the best players that stay healthy that end up staying the longest in the NFL. You've got two guys that are the same type of players, one gets injured and one doesn't, that's just the way the dice rolled.

"The people that take care of themselves, take care of their bodies, eat right, sleep right, things like that, end up maybe even lucky, stay in the NFL."

Miller's career started with some good fortune after he was rushed into the starting lineup at weakside linebacker -- a position he never played before -- because of an injury during Cincinnati's season opening loss to the New York Jets. He later started two games at middle linebacker, his natural position, after NFL veteran Nate Webster was lost for the season because of a torn patella tendon.

But Miller said he sprained one ankle in the opener and sustained a high ankle sprain during the Bengals first loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The second injury forced him to miss three consecutive games and his throbbing ankles have hampered him since.

"When you've got one bad ankle, it hurts, but you can kind of go somewhat," Miller said. "When you've got two, it's like sitting there with two flat tires. I've found out that being one step slow is terrible in the NFL. Two steps slow is just something you never want to deal with again.

"It has been an interesting year, a frustrating year, but a good year of learning."

One year is more than most thought he'd get when his Razorbacks' career ended.

Former Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack referred to Miller as one of the most underrated players in the Southeastern Conference throughout his collegiate career. The undersized Miller never impressed opponents or NFL scouts with his physique, but capitalized on his speed and tenacity.

Miller finished with 368 career tackles, third behind former teammates Tony Bua (408) and Ken Hamlin (381) on the school's all-time list.

"He was just the heart of the team," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "He made so many plays, covered up for so many mistakes. Guys get in the wrong gap or miss a tackle and he'd be there. That's what he meant. He was a phenomenal player.

"But they all said the same thing, ‘He's too skinny. He's too little.'"

The Bengals took a chance on Miller in the third round. He became one of six rookies to receive extensive playing time earlier than coach Marvin Lewis had hoped.

"When we drafted them, we knew they could play football," Lewis said in October. "We didn't know it was going to have to be all right now."

Miller said one of his new rookie teammates is a player that Arkansas fans should remember well: Keiwan Ratliff.

The Florida cornerback became infamous after launching a football into the Reynolds Razorback Stadium stands after returning an interception for a touchdown during the Gators' 33-28 win in 2003. The score gave Florida a 33-7 lead, but the post-touchdown celebration drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and ignited an Arkansas rally that fell short in the final minute of the game.

"I was joking around with him and said, ‘Don't ever throw the football into my stands again,'" Miller said. "I said, ‘You're lucky I didn't know that was you.' He started laughing. He's a really nice guy, a very good player.

"It's a positive, exciting thing to have so many talented players that are young players and can come in and fill roles and help us get better with more experience."

Miller, who said one of the most difficult adjustments in the NFL is the length of the year, which he compared to two college seasons, will spend the off-season resting his injured ankles. He also is hoping to gain more weight this winter, a task he struggled with throughout his Arkansas career.

Miller said he'll be better prepared in 2005 gaining valuable experience as a rookie.

"There's a lot of stuff rookies learn that you can't really prepare yourself for unless you've been through it," Miller said. "But it has been fun going around to different NFL games and just kind of taking in the whole experience and everything.

"It's a lot different from the college game. It's like an entertainment spectacle."

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