Lighter, Quicker Miller the Man in the Middle

Some feared the Illinois football team would have trouble replacing star J Leman at middle linebacker. But seeing how smoothly Brit Miller has assumed leadership at that spot, those fears have diminished. Miller may not be as emotional and inspirational as his predecessor, but he is intelligent, experienced, and fast for the position.

The 240 pounder out of Decatur Eisenhower started at middle linebacker as a freshman before switching to the outside so Leman could play middle. Now a mature, experienced senior, Brit Miller lost weight in anticipation of increased playing time.

"That was the reason I lost weight," Miller explains. "I played a little heavier last year because I was on the line of scrimmage alot as a SAM, but now I'm going from 40 plays to 80 plays and still play special teams.

"That's what I enjoy best about the game, just running and hitting. I'm looking forward to playing 80 plays, and this first game it might be 90 as much as they throw. I think last year it was 89 defensive plays, and that could easily happen again."

Miller had a turf toe problem late last year, but he is healthy now. And he feels much better at his new playing weight.

"Yeah, I'm quicker, I feel better. We've taken care of the turf toe. Mentally it makes you feel better. You want to play carefree, and that's what I'm doing right now. The game continues to slow down."

Brit understands the importance of senior leadership and pushing yourself to reach maximum potential.

"We've got old guys competing for spots, and we've got these young guys vying for spots. So that's what you want on a team. Coach Zook always works us hard, but with the experience we have as an older team we can turn it up a notch, more than your coach can ever push you.

"Today, I had a bad read. Just one on the day, but that's something you've got to take to heart as a senior because you never know when that big play's gonna come. You need to help your teammates, so we'll go back and break that down and get better. Watch it 20 times or so to make it right. I think that's what it takes to be a senior, to get this leadership right."

In Illinois' defense, the defensive linemen funnel ball carriers to the linebackers by tying up offensive linemen. Miller knows he will be the beneficiary of numerous tackle chances with the quality of his defensive line.

"They have about three groups that can rotate through and are very talented and can play on Saturday. As a linebacker, you don't like anything more than having big defensive linemen that can eat up double teams. You can then run around and make big plays."

Brit is also high on his fellow linebackers. Weakside linebacker Martez Wilson is one he enjoys talking about.

"Right now, he's gonna take some lumps in practice. Nobody's doing everything perfectly at this point. But Martez is one of those guys that, when he does finally get it, he's gonna be one of the best linebackers in the nation. Right now, he's probably the most athletic player in the nation. He knows that, but he's not satisfied with that. That gives us hope he can be really, really good."

Brit also knows he needs to help prepare one or more of the younger Illini to replace him next year. He listed some of the likely players who will be tried at middle linebacker after he graduates.

"We've got a couple young guys, including Russell Ellington. These guys are talented. I'm looking forward to guys like Martez Wilson, who can ease in there. He's learning the defense real well.

"And Ian Thomas has surprised me. Last year, we were thinking he might just be a special teamer. But he's a runner, a hitter, an athlete. He's taken his time and learned a lot, and he's doing well. Normally, I'm trying to find Ian so he knows what's going on, but he's lining people up and moving people. That's what it takes to be a linebacker at this level, and he's doing it.

"Physically, he and Martez are the best athletes on the team, along with Rejus, Jeff Cumberland linked in there as well. Those guys are athletes, just ballers. I'm looking forward to those guys becoming MIKEs. I think they could easily do it."

Miller is excited about the upcoming Missouri game and the entire 2008 season. He understands the importance of bringing your best game every day.

"I think one of the things Coach Zook and Coach Disch (Dan, Co-Defensive Coordinator and linebacker coach) harp on us most about is that anybody can beat anybody. We learned that against Iowa. We've got to throw out the records, if that's what you go by. They came out and handed it to us.

"Missouri is very capable of doing that as well, but we're excited about this defense, and we're excited about our offense. They're gonna probably put up bigger numbers than they did last year."

Brit Miller is serious when it comes to preparing the Fighting Illini for an outstanding season, but he is also the team's comic. He brings a light-hearted, refreshing sense of humor that helps his teammates stay calm and loose.

"This stuff won't last forever, so you've got to have as much fun with it as you can."

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