Senior Bowl Stud … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

From Mobile, Alabama

If the good folks that run the Senior Bowl presented an award called “Stud of the Year” then there’s no doubt the winner of that honor in 2011 would be Von Miller.

The Texas A&M linebacker has established during three days of practice here that he’s at the head of the class among the 100+ players taking part in the week of practices leading up to Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think anybody would argue that he’s probably the best player out here,” said Jets and former Chiefs personnel man Terry Bradway. “He’s a play maker.”

SCENE: The ball is snapped by the South offense and RB Charles Clay (Tulsa) leaks out of the backfield, plants his foot and cuts to his left, running a drag route across the second level of the defense. After back pedaling a few yards into coverage, Miller spies Clay and reacts immediately, pasting himself to the hip of the running back. There’s no space for the quarterback to throw the ball to Clay, so he passer looks elsewhere.

Coming off his sterling career at A&M, Miller seems to be one of those tweeners – he’s too small to play defensive end, which is essentially what he did in the Big 12 Conference. But can he play linebacker and can he cover receivers on the short field? If there’s one thing that Miller has done with his week of practice work in Mobile, it’s been to diminish any concerns teams would have with his ability to play the outside linebacker spot in the 3-4 defense.

With the 3-4 defense now being played by half of the league, outside linebackers with the skills Miller displayed are in great demand.

“If you’re going to play a 3-4 defense and don’t have outside backers, you don’t have a defense,” said Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. “You’ve got to be able to set the edge and rush a passer. It starts with them.”

SCENE: The 6-2½, 237-pound Miller flies out of his three-point stance in a pass rush that blows a hole through OT James Carpenter (6-4¾, 313 pounds). Carpenter is backpedaling just to keep from falling on his back. The crowd watching at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium reacts.

A bevy of scouts watching the play in the end zone, just turn to each other with faint smiles or arched eyebrows, telling us without words that among the hundreds of man-on-man battles on this day of Senior Bowl week, Miller’s pass rush is one to remember.

“He’s impressive,” said Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. “His control of his body and his flexibility reminds me of somebody.”

That somebody would be the late Derrick Thomas and there’s a reason Cunningham felt that way after watching the pass rush drill – one of the players that Miller has studied is Thomas.

“I watched a lot of his tapes,” Miller said this week. “I watch how he was relentless in how he went after the quarterback. He was able to take on bigger blockers and beat them by getting low and being quick with his hands. I really try to rush the passer the same way he did.”

Miller is not as big as Thomas was during most of his career. D.T. was 6-3, 255 pounds and that’s what made his ability to contort his body in the pass rush so impressive. But Thomas wasn’t asked to cover many receivers over his Hall of Fame career. His job was to help anchor the edge against the run and then get after the passer.

Senior Bowl President Steve Hale was part of the coaching staff at Alabama when Thomas was a freshman with the Crimson Tide and he seems similarities between Thomas and Miller.

“Derrick was just bigger than life in personality, and this young man (Miller) has some of those same traits. He’s an impressive young man.”

This week, Miller has done nothing but solidify his position near the top of the first round in April’s NFL Draft. How high will he go?

“There’s not enough to go around,” said Chargers defensive coordinator and former Chiefs LB Greg Manusky. “It’s getting harder to find those guys because there are so many more teams that want them.

“Some of these guys are going to get picked higher than they would have because the pool is getting limited. Teams will start reaching.”

Based on what he’s shown as the Stud of Senior Bowl 2011, any team that drafts Von Miller will not be reaching.

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