Christian Miller is Alabama's next great pass rusher

Christian+Miller+is+Alabama%26%23039%3Bs+next+great+pass+rusher

With Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams leaving for the NFL Draft, Christian Miller is Alabama’s next great pass rusher.

Matthew Speakman

Alabama linebacker Christian Miller has waited his turn. Like most Alabama players, he’s learned under former greats. Now, with the spotlight coming his way, he’s preparing to be Alabama’s next great pass rusher.

“I think I’m real good about where I think I need to be,” Miller said. “I think I’m 240 pounds now. I came in like 205, so I’m a lot stronger now. I feel like I’m more confident in the run game… I honestly probably feel more explosive, too. The weight hasn’t affected me at all. I’m probably faster as well. I feel good.”

Miller, now a redshirt junior, saw his role expanded last season as a backup to Tim Williams. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound outside linebacker appeared in all of Alabama’s 15 games in the 2016 season. During that time, he recorded 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. His standout play of the season came in Alabama’s 34-6 win over Kentucky, when he blazed off of the right side, recovered and tripped up Stephen Johnson to allow Ryan Anderson to deliver a fumble-forcing hit.

This year, the Crimson Tide needs Miller to continue to improve and fill a big role. Linebacker Keith Holcombe, who is very close with Miller, said Miller is showing out each time he steps on the practice field.

“He’s one of my best friends out there and just watching him go out there and pretty much ball out every day is great to see,” Holcombe said. “He’s a great pass rusher, [he’s got] great strength. He’s going to be very good for us this year.”

Miller is another example of Alabama’s trust-the-process mentality. As four-star recruit and the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2014 class, Miller had about as much talent as one recruit could have.

Miller still had to wait his turn. As a pass rusher, Miller has filled the mold as a slimmer, more athletic linebacker than can get to the quarterback at any time. He has a sleeker frame than Williams, but will have to develop in the same way.

“He has been that type of guy who has been a team player,” said linebacker Rashaan Evans. “I feel like anybody who is looking at him… I feel like teams need those kind of guys. He may not have had as much playing time as he wanted, but to be able to come up and actually get a role now, actually play, forget about those things that happened in the past and play to his role now is his biggest trait.”

Along with Williams, Alabama lost outside linebacker Ryan Anderson to the NFL Draft. Williams and Anderson were two of Alabama’s leaders at the Sam and Jack positions, respectively. Anderson and Williams combined for 18 sacks and 35 tackles for loss.

Miller, with his size and speed, can most likely fill either spot. He says he feels best at the Sam position.

“I’ve very comfortable [at Sam],” Miller said. “That’s kind of something I’ve done for awhile. That’s something that kind of fits my game. I can cover tight ends. I can drop. I can play the edge. That’s honest. That’s what I do. So I’m very comfortable there.”

Miller will be apart of a pass-rushing group that is up in the air. Alabama was third in the NCAA in sacks last year, with 54 total. However, outside of Williams and Anderson, the team also lost its sack leader in Jonathan Allen.

Last year, due to the level of pass-rushing talent, many of the players held competitions to see who could get to the quarterback first. Whether a competition happens this year remains to be seen. Miller thinks the sack crown is up for grabs.

“Right now we’ve probably got more athleticism than we’ve had in recent years, so I mean, honestly, I can’t tell who,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even know if we’re trying to compete against each other right now as to who is going to have more sacks.”

Miller definitely has a shot to be Alabama’s best pass rusher this season. As he steps into a bigger role, he believes his game is about more than getting to the quarterback.

“I have confidence in myself, I do,” Miller said. “But it’s like Coach Saban tells us, it’s not always about making sacks. Sometimes you just need to affect the quarterback, and that’s what we’re working on. It’s not always about the numbers.”