Brit Miller: Thinking Man's Linebacker

J Leman has gained much notoriety as a linebacker at Illinois. But he benefits from the quality play of those around him. One of those players is two-year starter Brit Miller, Leman's good friend who is as intelligent as he is athletic. And anticipating a big junior year.

Brit Miller is becoming a leader for a defense that is on the upswing. And he is a media delight. Intelligent, personable and talkative, one can gain a wealth of knowledge visiting with him.

Miller is the starting strongside (SAM) linebacker at the University of Illinois. He is a graduate of Decatur Eisenhower high school, where he earned ten total letters in football, basketball and track. He was an Illinois state high school track championship qualifier in the shot, discus, 4X100 relay and 4X200 relay. And he was also a member of the National Honor Society for academic excellence.

Brit has gained significant playing time each of his first two seasons and has been a starter since midway through his freshman season. His career tackling statistics show 89 tackles, including 9 tackles for 26 yards in losses. In addition, he intercepted a pass against Penn State. His best games might have been a 12 tackle performance against Northwestern in 2005 and 8 tackles against Big Ten champion Ohio State last fall. Two of those latter tackles came on open field plays against tOSU's great speedster Ted Ginn.

We spoke to him after the spring scrimmage at Chicago St. Rita. While it appeared the first string defense dominated in that game, Brit still saw room for improvement.

"I think the defense started off a little slow. There's always an 'X' factor in defense. Are you going to come ready to play? Trying to get amped up against your own team is kind of tough. But once we got to some third downs and situational type ball, we knew what we had to do and we started shutting them down. I think the defense later on in the practice did what we needed to do, but in the beginning it could have gone either way."

The defense will be very good. It also will be, for the first time in awhile, deep.

"I think our twos are in there a lot and get more reps than us so they might be a little tired. Those guys, they play tough. Offensively, the ones did a great job. They know that not many people are going to run the ball against us anyway. So they resort to getting out on the perimeter and try to do some things there. But they're really good, and they're gonna be ready to go."

Miller believes the defense, overall, will be pretty good.

"Yeah, I think so. I think we're getting to the point where we can rotate the second string guys in there. We really don't call it first string and second string, especially the linebackers. We just look forward to playing, and everyone is good enough to play. We just have to find the right combinations."

There is a big difference in attitude and confidence on the defense between two years ago and now.

"Definitely. Coming out that first year there was a lot of confusion learning the new defense installed by Coach Zook. It took awhile. I think guys are starting to see it as a whole defense, and that's what the defense needs to be playing. It is a holistic approach, and everyone needs to know where everyone's going to be and their responsibilities, so I think this year there are new areas of our defense we can explore. We've got guys who have been here for three years so I think we've really got it down."

And the athleticism is also much improved.

"Yeah, we've got some athletes too. I'm probably one of the lesser ones so I have to play some hard-nosed ball. We've got some guys ahead of me and behind me who are ready to play everyday."

Miller suffered an ankle sprain recently, and it forced him to sit out two practices.

"We can't really figure it out. It hurts sometimes, but it's getting better and the trainers are keeping me going. That's the big thing in spring ball is getting reps. I'm not doing as well at manhandling people like I'd like to, but we're doing alright with it."

Rodney Pittman is an experienced backup who took advantage of Miller's absence with good play of his own.

"Pittman is doing well. He plays a good WILL (weakside linebacker) too. It's great there's some competition there. That's what we want. In case anything happens, Pittman's our swing guy right now. He can play any position, and he has definitely improved in all facets of his game. He's out there playing. He's kind of a relaxed guy, so when he gets out on the field he gets it amped up and is ready to go."

Miller played middle linebacker his freshman year but switched positions with J. Leman before last fall. With ankle surgery sidelining Leman this spring, Miller has seen time in the middle in the nickel package. And there is some thought of moving him back to the middle after Leman graduates. Does he prefer the middle or outside?

"I love the outside. It's tough to take J's place also. But next year, it's whatever the defense needs. I think I do a lot better job as a SAM because I get to cut off the field and these guys can make plays within their zones a lot better if I'm cutting off the field as I should. I may have to take on a lot of blockers and not make a lot of tackles, but if we're winning that's all that matters."

Leman credits film study with helping him become a dominant linebacker. Does this inspire his fellow linebackers to study more film as well?

"Definitely. Being out on the field with J is like being out there with their (opponent's) offensive coordinator. He knows so much about the game. I remember one play against Wisconsin, he looks at me dead serious and says, 'We're having a tight end screen right here.'

"The tight end screen comes, he blows it up, and I just say 'Good job, J.' And even now he's putting a lot more time into the film work. It helps us out. As we mature, we realize the game is both mental and physical so the more mental reps we take, the less we need to do out on the field."

Brit Miller now weighs a solid 250 pounds.

"I've gained about five pounds since last spring but I've got my body fat down a little bit so I am able to do some things. I came in about 230 but made a big leap last year. Coach Lou (Hernandez, the Strength & Conditioning coach) is just wild; people just don't understand."

Speaking of wild, Coach Lou puts injured players through their paces. When Miller went out with his sprained ankle, one could see him being given a major workout.

"They're not injured. It's called 'active healing.' I was out for two days, and I was like, 'Just take me back out there.' After working with Lou, I decided I'd rather be hurt."

As a student with a double major of History and Speech Communcations, Brit has goals both on and off the field.

"Definitely, I want to get more out of this than just the letterman's jacket they provide for our services. We want to get the rings. Beyond football, I want to be a teacher and get back into a school system and coach, for sure."

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