Miller trying to embrace his role

ATHENS – Even at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Brandon Miller has a smile wider than his shoulders.

Georgia's senior middle linebacker is yes-sir up one side and no-sir down the other, as amiable a player as the Bulldogs have. But down deep, Miller carries a bitter feeling, linebackers coach John Jancek said.

"Brandon is a pretty self-motivated guy," Jancek said. "Anytime you read in the paper about how people think you're a dud and you've been a disappointment throughout your career, you certainly don't need motivation."

Miller was one of the nation's most highly recruited athletes in 2003. He has played in 37 games and started 15 of them, totaling 73 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. Solid numbers, but his career has lacked the spectacular.

That could change this year, thanks to a position switch and a change in disposition. Georgia moved Miller from his previous spot at strongside linebacker to the middle to get him in on more plays, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.

"He's the key to our whole defense in my opinion," Coach Mark Richt said. "When you do certain drill work, where he knows exactly what he's doing, he's a dominant player. If he can get comfortable in the roll of the (middle) linebacker, if he can play full speed, he can make a huge difference for us."

Miller estimates he knows 80 percent of what he needs to be ready to play at his maximum.

"That 20 percent should come in the next month," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. I know there are a lot of people counting on me to hold it down. I'm going to go out there and give it my best and go out there and have fun."

Starting fullback Brannan Southerland hasn't faced Miller in practice this fall, but he has watched the backup fullbacks work against the first-team defense.

"No. 1, he's huge," Southerland said. "He fills the role physically. He's going to be a man to deal with this year. I feel sorry for the other fullbacks in the league who have to go against him."

As long as he stays in the middle, Miller will face mostly fullback and interior linemen.

"Being in the middle, you have to know everything that's going on," Miller said. "When you've got 380-pound guys coming at you, it's not making it any better."

Miller is trying to embrace his role as the linchpin of the defense.

"That's gratifying, a great feeling," he said. "I already feel I have to lead the defense."

Along with making plays, Miller now has to make more comments, a step outside his comfort zone that he's making well, according to teammates.

"He's more vocal," defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. "Before he was a more shy guy, he was pretty much a loner. Now, he's more vocal, coming out of his shell and taking over our defense."

Miller, who still is taking snaps at strongside linebacker this fall, is close to where he needs to be in the middle but has work to do in the next 23 practices, Jancek said.

"I just need to get him going in the right direction because once he sees it, he's going to be ready," Jancek said. "He's taken a lot of heat in the media. He's a highly competitive athlete on a national level and usually those guys have a tremendous amount of pride. I hope he has a great senior year. He's worked hard; he deserves it."

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