Cornerbacks are sometimes referred to as being on a figurative “island” because they often go one-on-one with receivers.
FIU cornerback Sam Miller might literally be on an island this season.
Not only is the senior a starter in the Panthers’ defensive backfield, but he’s an elder statesman of a unit that starts the season in flux and is missing some of its best players.
In the backfield, gone is safety Jonathan Cyprien, who was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft in April. On the opposite side of the field from Miller, junior cornerback Richard Leonard is facing academic eligibility issues and looks unlikely to play in the season opener and potentially beyond.
So for the foreseeable future, the spotlight shines on Miller to be the steadying force for the Panthers’ defense.
“I don’t think I feel pressure,” Miller said. “It’s more of something to prove. We had a bad season last year. Coming back, we know what we have to do and we’re going to get that done.”
Miller, who admitted to starting off slow in training camp, has come along in practice recently. Coach Ron Turner praised Miller’s abilities on and off the field.
“He’s a big-time leader,” Turner said. “He’s doing a great job. He had a very good camp. I’m anxious to see him on gameday, but he’s had a big impact as a leader.”
Last season, Miller also had a big impact all over the field. He played in all 12 games and finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles. He recorded two sacks, one interception, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Miller said his personal goal would be to create more turnovers this season, but at the top of his list is for the Panthers to reach a bowl game.
When asked about his role, Miller reiterated that he cared more about picking up others as opposed to racking up stats.
“My role, as a leader, is to get the young guys playing up to their potential,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to get the team as one. We can’t do this as individuals.”
Although Miller emphasizes team over individual every chance he gets, when pressed about who he’s excited to face, Miller didn’t hesitate to mention Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater, who played at Miami Northwestern High, splashed onto the national scene after leading Louisville to a win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Miller, who also grew up in Miami, said he never faced Bridgewater’s Bulls when he played at La Salle but that the two have known each other for a few years.
The last time Miller played at Louisville, he responded with one of the strongest games of his career in an FIU victory. Miller recorded three tackles for loss, as well as two sacks and a fumble recovery in that 2011 game. This season, Miller believes that his training camp under the new coaching staff will transfer to the real games.
“This coaching staff is great,” Miller said. “I’ve learned so much this year. The expectations are high. We come out here with energy every day. We should come out and produce.”