Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Competitive Miller Helping O-Line Set Pace

By Brian Rosenthal

He won nothing from the bet but a feeling of pride, and really, that’s all that matters to Hunter Miller.

Go ahead. Try to tell the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Nebraska walk-on he can’t do something. Like, say, eat a large hamburger pizza from Pizza Hut in less than 5 minutes.

“So I did it in under 3,” Miller said.

That’s when Miller, a native of Stromsburg, was a junior at Cross County High School, just horsing around with friends.

And maybe a pizza eating bet isn’t necessarily what Scott Frost has in mind when he says he wants competitors.

Or, on the other hand, maybe it is.

“I was craving competition,” Miller said of his desire to play as many sports as possible as a youth and in high school.

“You can tell I’m a competitive eater, too," he said, smiling.

Flat out, Miller hates losing. Always has to be first. Such a mindset surely will help as he battles for playing time at center during Nebraska’s spring football practices.

“I think it’s going really well,” Miller said. “I’ve been able to learn it and take hold of it. Everything, I’ve been able to process pretty well. Cohesively as an O-line, I think we’re starting to click. We’re able to flow better on the field.”

When spring practices began March 26, new offensive line coach Greg Austin didn’t realize Miller, a redshirted freshman, was taking collegiate snaps for the first time in his career.

Well, it’s true. Miller had shoulder surgery at the outset of fall camp last season after an MRI revealed he’d torn his labrum, an injury Miller suspects he suffered during one of the first practices for last summer’s Shrine Bowl.

He kept practicing and played in the all-star game, anyway.

“I was amazed at how he was able to fill in and really do a pretty bang-up good job early on,” Austin said. “As the reps have gone on, we’re continuing to work on his technique, and obviously his leadership and the calls he makes.”

Miller is rotating at center with junior Cole Conrad and true freshman Will Farniok while sophomore Michael Decker continues to sit out while recovering from injury.

When Miller says they’re sharing equal repetitions, he really means they’re sharing equal repetitions. All three are working with all units.

“Everyone is getting the same amount of reps,” Miller said. “We’re working on becoming a better team as a whole, not just getting the top guys better. It’s about development.”

Austin said Miller entered the center competition out of necessity, more than anything, as Conrad also began the spring sidelined with an injury. But Miller remains a part of the mix even with Conrad back to practice.

“He’s doing a pretty good job of hanging there and rolling with the punches,” Austin said of Miller. “As a center, you can’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. He does a good job of really making the calls when he needs to make them. He’s a voice out there.”

Frost said before spring practices began that his no-huddle, tempo offense does favors for the offensive linemen. The tempo wears out defenders and keeps them on their toes.

Overall as an offense, coaches are trying to put stress on the defense, creating mismatches, scheming and finding opponents’ weaknesses. In that regard, they’ll use tempo to their advantage.

“If our offensive line can get lined up, they’ll be able to come off the ball and set a new point of attack,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “We’ll do different things with blocking structures. We’ll read different defensive personnel – it may be a defensive lineman, it may be a linebacker.

“Once you read a guy, now you slow him down, because he’s not sure whether to take the quarterback or take the running back or what we’re going to do. As long as we’re playing fast and we’re putting stress on the defense, then that’s to our advantage.”

Austin described how a tempo offense forces defenders to lose their technique in favor of simply getting calls.

“So many times we’re in a play, in the middle of play, and these guys might not have their hand in the ground,” Austin said. “Obviously, if you don’t have your hand in the ground, you’re not going to get into position. There went your technique. You’re still trying to figure out what call was. Now you’re mad at your buddy. Now, we just continue to pour it on.”

Comparable, he said, to throwing the opponent in the deep end of the pool with no life jacket.

Miller, for one, loves the tempo offense. It indeed favors offensive linemen who line up in the same spot regardless of the formation.

“It’s about a sense of urgency for the O-line,” Miller said. “It’s getting lined up, getting calls, going to work. We have to have a better sense of urgency going into practice and treat every day like a game day.”

Miller likes to think he was born a competitor, just like his new head coach.

“He’s definitely got that, and he’s instilled that in us,” Miller said of Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback in his first season as head coach. “It’s coming out to practice like it’s a game day. Treat it with a sense of urgency. It’s going to war every single day, especially down in the trenches. You’ve got to pick up your lunch pail and go to work.”

Frost said Tuesday was the best day of the spring for the offensive line, that he saw more competitors who are embracing their roles and attacking.

Of course, he wants more of it, and from everyone on the team. But the guys in the trenches are a good group to start.

“Nebraska football is built on guys that won’t quit, won’t give up," Frost said. "We’re going to be tough and refuse to lose. We’ve got some of it. We need to build more of it.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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