Texas A&M; senior Von Miller, a preseason pick for the Big 12’s co-defensive player of the year award, plays a position that has one of the most misleading titles in the game today.
Miller, the 6-foot-3, 243-pounder who was voted as an All-American by The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated in 2009, plays what’s known as the “Joker” position for Mike Sherman’s defense. But, for opposing offenses, there’s absolutely nothing funny about the way Miller can impact a game.
Think Heath Ledger in the 2008 Batman flick, “The Dark Knight,” not the happy-go-lucky figure you find in a deck of cards.
“Their whole mantra is, ‘Get after the quarterback,’” KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “That’s what they want to do. If you can get that first level blocked, then you’re able to get some balls off, and that’s obviously what we’re gonna try to do. But what they make you do is make sure you’re sound in protection, and you have to (adjust) a little bit to make sure you’ve got a hat and a possible chip on Miller. That’s the key to the game.”
Easier said than done, especially because, after leading the nation in sacks as a junior in 2009 as a defensive end, film of Miller playing his new position — more of an outside linebacker in A&M;’s new 3-4 scheme — is hard to come by.
So far this season, Miller, who has been hobbled by an ankle injury, has left a little to be desired in terms of statistics. Through six games he has a rather modest 20 tackles and two sacks and ranks just ninth on his team in total tackles.
According to Sherman, however, numbers don’t tell the entire story with Miller.
“My whole objective with him is that he distracts an offense, that he causes concern for a quarterback,” Sherman said. “If he does that, he does his job. I’m not a big stat guy to begin with, but his presence should change how an offense is planning to play the game.”
Though Kansas has yet to face him, Long said a lot of the KU offense’s focus in practice this week was on making sure it knew where Miller was at all times.
“Oh, no question,” Long said. “They can run. They’ve got athletes there. But when you have a pass rusher like (Miller), you have to account for that. We haven’t faced a guy like that yet this year.”
Though Miller gives the Aggies a clear-cut advantage in just about every game they play, the rest of the team has struggled to keep up. After jumping out to a 3-0 start, by an average margin of victory of 27 points per game, the Aggies have dropped three straight and, like Kansas, are winless in Big 12 play at 0-2.
Looking only at the streaks, and not A&M;’s opponents, also can be misleading. All three of Texas A&M;’s losses this season have come against ranked opponents. They fell to No. 17 Oklahoma State, 38-35, on Sept. 30; were upended by No. 21 Arkansas, 24-17, on Oct. 9; and were drubbed, 30-9, by No. 18 Missouri last week.
More than anything, A&M;’s struggles on offense, particularly its propensity to give the ball away — the Aggies has committed 18 turnovers, including nine interceptions — have made the Aggies hungry to get back on the winning side.
“They’re in a situation too,” Kansas coach Turner Gill said of the Aggies. “(They’re) trying to find a way to win a game also.”
Still, Gill, who worked for A&M; head coach Mike Sherman in 2005 in Green Bay, is not about to feel sorry for his old boss’ new team.
“They definitely have improved from last year, from what I saw a little bit this season,” Gill said of the A&M; defense. “And what they’re doing right now, particularly with the scheme, they’ve been able to do a lot more things with the talented linebacker crew that they have. That’s going to cause us to make sure we’re on top of things, particularly from a passing standpoint. With that 3-4, you can come from all different directions so we need to make sure that our guys are in tune with what they have, and who they have and how they’re going to go about doing it.”