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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

With free agency looming, Bucs showing little interest in re-signing Roy Miller

11

February

The Bucs have a number of issues to address on defense, but stopping the run is not among them. Tampa Bay led the NFL in rushing defense in 2013, limiting opponents to 3.5 yards per attempt.

A major reason for that success: The play of nose tackle Roy Miller, who produced, perhaps, his best season as a pro. His numbers (24 tackles) won’t reflect it, as is often the case for nose tackles. But Miller contributed significantly to the Bucs’ greatly-improved rushing defense with stout play at the line of scrimmage.

In a few weeks, Miller becomes an unrestricted free agent. Despite that, we’ve learned there have been no substantive contract talks between Miller and the Bucs, calling into question the team's commitment to re-signing its 2009 third-round pick.

There’s still plenty of time for talk; if unsigned, Miller, 25, won’t hit the open market until March 12, when the free-agent signing period begins.

But the apparent lack of interest is somewhat surprising. The Bucs lauded Miller’s play during the season. Coach Greg Schiano had Miller play the so-called “tilted nose”, aligning him at angle rather than head up on an offensive lineman. And Miller thrived in the role for which Schiano said Miller is “custom built.”

“He's a heck of a run-stopper,” Schiano added.

And if you ask the opinion of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is close to Miller, he’d tell you Miller is a keeper. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan in December spoke to the impact of Miller’s play on McCoy, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2012.

“I think how Roy has played and how physical he is in the run game has given a chance for. . . Gerald to get a single block, get off and make plays,” Sheridan said. “I think Roy has had a very good year. He's been very disruptive. He's a guy a lot of times you need to put two blockers on or else he's got a chance to really knock the center back and get in the backfield.”

Miller has been durable, missing just one game in three years despite a painful back injury in 2011. And he’s the kind of player Schiano would consider a “Buccaneer man,” showing strong character and leadership in how he works.

Given so many positives, why would there be hesitation from the Bucs? Because the NFL remains a business.

In the team’s defense, it can be hard to put a value on nose tackles who don’t produce flashy statistics or, in the case of Miller, play on third downs and in passing situations. And without knowing Miller’s asking price, it’s impossible to determine whether either side is being unreasonable.

Still, if the Bucs are willing to risk losing Miller, they’d best have a plan to replace him. The team has little depth on the interior of its defensive line, with 30-year-old backup Gary Gibson the only other true nose tackle on the roster.

There will be some options available in the draft. And free agency might provide an opportunity to address the need, too. But whatever route the Bucs choose, nose tackle is a position that needs to be dealt with – either via re-signing Miller or by finding another impactful player through other means.

For a defense that has several weak spots – including (statistically, anyway) the worst pass defense in football – there already are multiple positions in need of an upgrade. As they try to improve those other areas, it’s just as critical for the Bucs to ensure their run defense remains a bright spot – with or without Miller.

[Last modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 10:58am]

    

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