Miller Called On To Become A Team Leader

Brit Miller has a big responsibility this year for the Fighting Illini football team. He must help replace the great leadership of the Rose Bowl team, and he has been assigned the task of replacing All-Star middle linebacker J Leman. From first impressions, he is up to the task.

Meeting the press corps prior to the beginning of spring football practice, Brit demonstrated a firm grasp of the task ahead as he described leadership.

"I think it's about making friendships with your teammates and definitely stepping out of your comfort zone a couple of times, talking with guys you might not talk to otherwise. J. Leman was a perfect example. You never knew who J was going to be walking with after practice, who he was going to be talking to in the locker room. We seniors need to step up and make sure these young guys feel welcome, as they did for us when we came. I think that provides us with a winning mentality and ability to win games."

Using his typical good humor, Miller affirmed the message Coach Zook has been preaching since the Rose Bowl, that others think last year's Illini success was a fluke and won't recur.

"Yes, of course. I think he's said that every day. He always reminds us it's a 'what have you done for me lately' kind of world. We relive the Iowa loss every now and then. That's something we have to make sure doesn't happen this year. The Rose Bowl was great, and it was great to be a part of it. But that stuff is over now. We're a brand new team, and as Coach said in our first meeting, 'This is our first meeting with our new team.' This is totally different, and we look forward to that challenge."

Brit continued Coach Zook's mantra.

"I think it is important for us to realize our history. We've had some big seasons in the past, but we need to back them up. We need to continue to become a power in the Big Ten. What we've accomplished in the past, I think we've got a good shot of duplicating that.

"We have a lot of great talent here, and I hope these young guys know it's important. We've taken some beatings, we've taken big losses in front of the home crowds. Now that stuff's over. Hopefully, we can continue to win."

Miller began his Illini career as a middle linebacker, and he was Leman's backup when the Illini switched to a nickel defense. So while he doesn't expect to make fans forget J, he is comfortable with his new responsibilities.

"Yeah. I used to have to keep J Leman in line. His big thing was, he would always call a play opposite. He'd be standing the other way, and I'd say, 'Turn around, we're facing this way.' I'll be alleviated of that. But that's true, he does that.

"I think since freshman year I've taken a lot of reps (at middle linebacker) in practice. And Coach Disch is great at making sure we're prepared for the games. And I think I have the capability to sit down and figure things out on the sideline. That's what leaders at middle linebacker can do."

Brit and his linebacker mates must learn both the inside and outside linebacker assignments, making position switches easier.

"We like to think of our linebackers as interchangable. We work in a holistic view of the defense. We've got to know what everybody's doing. I've been taking the reps for three years. I've just been behind J, and who better for me to be behind. I'm sure I'll get a couple calls from J saying 'What were you doing?' But it's a new responsibility, and I look forward to it.

"We've got a great d-line ahead of us, and they're going to make my job a lot easier. And with Vontae Davis and Dere Hicks getting interceptions, they can take a little pressure off you. We've got a lot of talent around me, so we have a better situation this year.

In fact, Brit bubbles over when allowed to fantasize about how good this new defense can be. There is an abundance of athleticism already, with more on the way in the fall.

"It's amazing. I think last year we could categorize ourselves as guys with experience and some decent athletes. But now, I'm one of the weak athletic guys on the field. Martez Wilson, you don't know where he's going to be. He plays gunner on punts and linebacker, it's incredible. He can play safety.

"Will Davis used to be a tight end and now is a defensive end, and he terrorizes everybody. It excites me. I just start talking fast. Just to be out there with guys like that. Having guys like Josh Brent in front of you. Whenever guys are double-teaming him, the running back just seems to find you. It makes it a lot easier. Our defense is going to be quick, and they're going to be bigger, which is kind of scary."

Miller confirms the Rose Bowl experience provides plenty of incentive to work hard as it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

"Most definitely. It's something that we've worked to get rid of. We come back and watch the film and see how close we actually were in scheming them. Trying to figure out what they were doing, we were always a step behind them. That's something we'll try to learn from.

"Everything we did was offset very quickly, and we didn't react as a team. They just executed better than we did. Not only losing leaves a bad taste, but being outplayed does. That's the worst of it. We'll try hard to be sure that doesn't happen again."

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