INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Miller recently did something he hadn't really done in months: he got the chance to unwind.
Taking advantage of the recent four-day Memorial Day weekend, Miller visited his buddies at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., where the questions poured in.
"Man, how is it?" his friends asked.
"It's just football," Miller told them.
Yes, at its very core, it's just football, but don't let Miller fool you: what he's doing is beyond unprecedented.
Miller is trying to make the Indianapolis Colts' roster as an undrafted rookie tight end. But not only that: he's doing so coming from an NAIA school, where his time on the field was spent as a quarterback and a wide receiver, not battling in the trenches opening holes for his running backs.
Through it all, Miller has leaned on his faith — and his family and friends — as he enters uncharted waters, having been thrown right in the fire of an NFL team's offseason workouts and practices.
"It's just been an awesome experience, and just to get to live that with my friends and my family — everybody is so supportive," Miller said. "Whatever happens, happens. But I'm just going to give my all every day."'He's got stuff you can't coach'
Miller, at 6 foot 6, 250 pounds, certainly looks the part of an NFL tight end. On the practice field, No. 49 — known already as "Big Mike" — stands out, even among the rest of the large tight ends and offensive linemen around him.
But unlike most of the more veteran players in the tight ends room, Miller is behind the eight ball when it comes to learning everything he needs to know to play the position at a high level, as well as any additional responsibilities on special teams.
Miller says the route-running aspect of the position comes a little easier due to his previous experience at wide receiver, but his responsibilities in the run game are still a major work in progress. But he says he certainly hasn't been left alone to learn on his own.
"In terms of concepts and stuff, I definitely have to work on that, but, I mean, Coach Hos (Hostler) is spending extra time with me, and the tight ends, all the vets, have been spending extra time with me, so I definitely feel like I'm coming along," he said. "I think I pick up the passing game a little bit easier than the running game, just because of the different techniques and in-line blocking and stuff like that. But I feel like I'm coming along."
It's ultimately his role as a pass catcher — and his experience as a wide receiver — that could pay off down the road, however. NFL teams crave big targets to toss the ball to in the red zone — as well as those deceptively quick guys who break open down the seam — and Miller hopes he can provide that and more for the Colts.
The goal as an undrafted rookie is to catch the eye of your coaches; to do something that makes you stand out. When it comes to catching the ball, Miller has already earned the attention from Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.
With Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle atop the depth chart at tight end this offseason, the Colts have a few others — Darion Griswold, Mo Alie-Cox and Miller — with little-to-none NFL playing experience. But in a tight end-friendly offense, there are certainly opportunities for someone to grab a roster spot.
"We've got a couple young guys that are making some plays out there. It's not too big for them. They're athletic guys," Pagano said on May 24 of Miller and Griswold particularly. "We had a red area day yesterday and 'Big Mike' made a few plays down there. He's got stuff that you can't coach as far as size and length. It was good to see that and those guys make some plays down there."From Upland to Indy
Upland, population just less than 4,000, is a small town located just east of Interstate 69 in East Central Indiana. It's home to Taylor University, a Christian liberal arts college with a total undergraduate enrollment of about 2,000 students.
Miller — a Parker, Colo., native — transferred to Taylor from Santa Monica College in 2013. In three seasons for Taylor, Miller found himself all over the field. His first year, he had 20 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, and also played a little defense, tallying two tackles and an interception.
His second year he returned to quarterback, completing 68-of-160 throws for 568 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for 178 yards and three rushing scores. But the Trojans coaches couldn't ignore Miller's potential as a pass catcher, as he also had 18 receptions for 236 yards that year.
2016 Organized Team Activities (OTA) - Week 6 - #1
Last year, in his final season at Taylor, Miller shined exclusively as a wide receiver, catching 42 passes for 546 yards and five touchdowns, and earned Second-Team All-Mid-States Football Association honors.
But with all respect to Taylor, Miller's competition at the NAIA level — with opponents like St. Francis, Marian, Siena Heights and Concordia — wasn't exactly up to par with other NFL hopefuls. It didn't matter to Miller, however, who continued to work hard at the conclusion of his senior year at Taylor to try to earn a look anywhere.
His hard work paid off. Miller, who worked out at Ball State University's Pro Day, earned individual workouts with the Colts, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, and in April, he was invited back to his home state to take part in the Denver Broncos' Pro Day.
Then, on May 2, Miller got the big break he was hoping for: the Colts signed him to their 90-man roster.
From the beginning, Miller said he was sure not to let any labels define him.
"I'm not worried about that at all," Miller said when asked about his chances to continue to stick on the roster. "Like I said, I just take one day at a time and try to learn as much as I can and work as hard as I can doing that. So I don't think I say, like, 'longshot' or 'guarantee' or anything like that. It's just one day at a time. That's really all you can ask."
But Miller also isn't one to forget where he came from. Just one player in Taylor's history — Wade Russell, a tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1986 and 1987 — has ever played a down in the NFL.
If Miller has things his way, he'll be No. 2 on that list. For now, however, he just continues to harp the "one day at a time" approach, as his friends and former teammates continue to hound him about the NFL lifestyle.
"Obviously God's blessed me every day that I wake up and I'm able to come in here," Miller said. "It's been an amazing experience, and again, that's because of the organization I'm in, I think. With like Coach P (Pagano) and Coach Hos (Hostler) and Coach Chud (Chudzinski) — all of them, all the way across the board, to our lifting coaches and then to the players surrounding us — vets, rookies. I mean, it's just an organization that's a team unlike any that I've been on. It's not exactly what I expected, and it's been just a pleasant surprise coming in."