A year ago, Maurice Miller was on the Rebel football team, but he didn't feel like "one of the guys."
After starting the last seven games of the 2006 season, and doing well in his starts, you can sense something different about "Mo," the 6-3, 330-pounder from West Helena, AR.
Is it confidence? Yes, but there's more to it than that. It's a feeling of being whole.
"Now I know the feeling of togetherness the five guys on the OL who are starting have. It's a feeling you can't get watching from the sidelines," said Miller. "When you aren't in that five, something is missing in the comraderie. It's not intentional or mailicious, it's just the way it is.
"As a starter, you are in the thick of things and you feel important. You feel like you are needed and not just another body."
And while Maurice's confidence has risen to new heights, and he has been penciled in as next year's right tackle starter, having done the job when he got the chance in '06 raised his status with the coaches as well.
"My confidence level is high, but what's also important to me was gaining the confidence of the coaches," he explained. "I believe I showed them I am the kind of player they can count on to be dependable in games. I believe they believe in me to be able to overcome any challenge they put in front of me. It wasn't that way before I showed them in the games I was ready to produce."
After RT starter Darryl Harris went down last year, the coaches - namely Art Kehoe - were scrambling to find a suitable replacement. It's not a stretch to say they looked at Mo, who was backing up John Jerry at RG, as somewhat of a we-have-no-other-choice decision.
He put a stranglehold on the opportunity, effectively playing the position and, in the process, impressing Kehoe beyond expectations.
"I was motivated to show them what I could do when I got my big chance. I was also motivated by my teammates. The starters all motivated me to hold up my end of the bargain," he stated. "They encouraged me and talked to me about how important it was that I give it everything I have. We were already close, but like I said there is a different bond with the starters."
In the offseason, Mo assessed what he had to do to improve for 2007.
"The biggest think I have to do is keep working on my technique. I know my responsibilities, but you have to have perfect technique to carry them out," said Miller. "It doesn't do you any good to just know who you have to block, you have to use great technique to get in the best position you can to deliver an effective block."
Maurice said a big key for the Rebel offense in 2007 is simple - the passing game has to get better and the OL protection has to improve.
"We have to make the quarterback comfortable back there. It's our job to protect him and get him in a comfort zone where all he has to concentrate on is who is open and making a good throw," he noted. "We didn't do that often enough last year. We have to give our QBs that opportunity this year."
The OL has Michael Oher returning at LT, Corey Actis coming back at center, John Jerry at RG and Miller at RT. The lone spot to fill in spring is left guard. Who, in his opinion, will it be?
"That's a good question. Reid Neely has been a huge surprise in our pre-spring drills. He's a big-time technician and has looked really good," Miller evaluated. "Reid has a great punch and he pulls very well. Darryl is technically perfect. He's the best technician we have. Mark (Jean-Louis) has a lot of raw talent and just needs to develop his technique. It will be interesting to see how that pans out, but I feel comfortable with who we have competing for the left guard slot."
Maurice feels the Rebel OL will be very salty if they can clean up some pass protection issues.
"We have a lot of experience coming back, and not just with the starters. Thomas Eckers can play three positions, Reid is coming on strong, Marcus Cohen is a veteran, Darryl is very experienced and Mark should come on strong as spring progresses," he said. "We feel good about where we are and believe we will only get better."
Maurice has also taken it upon himself to be more of a leader now that he has starter status.
"I don't talk a lot, but I try to do everything the coaches tell me to do so the younger guys will see that and learn," Miller allowed. "I think we have good leadership on our OL with the guys we have and I want to do my part in that.
"This is a very close team. Our core guys are tight and getting tighter every day. There seems to be more guys stepping up to take leadership roles and we all help each other in everything we do. What we do is not easy, so you better be on the same page in doing it. We are."
Maurice Miller, the starter, was unveiled last year and pleased everyone concerned.
The 2007 Mo should be even better.
Maurice Miller update -
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