TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been one of Roy Miller's biggest fans.
As an Oklahoma City teenager, McCoy looked up to Miller, the Bucs nose tackle, watching his Killeen (Texas) High highlights from afar. And when the two were recruited by Oklahoma, McCoy dreamed they'd play alongside each other.
Miller, 25, spurned the Sooners for Texas, but the two remained in touch. And when McCoy was drafted No. 3 overall by Tampa Bay in 2010, Miller welcomed the touted rookie by giving him his No. 93 — free of charge.
"He just said, 'Here, take it,' " McCoy, 24, said. "That's just the type of guy he is."
The nature of Miller's position is to be unselfish, drawing double teams and plugging the middle to free up fellow linemen. But while McCoy garners the attention (and first Pro Bowl selection) and end Michael Bennett racks up a team-high nine sacks, it's not lost on the Bucs that the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Miller has helped both by having, arguably, the best season of his four-year career.
"Roy has been a very integral part of our defense," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of the 2009 third-round pick. "He's a heck of a run-stopper and plays the position … very well. And he's really custom built to play it."
Miller has flourished in a scheme that befits his physical and aggressive style. While Miller plays mostly on first and second down, he's a key reason why the Bucs have the No. 1 run defense in the league. And Miller, who like Bennett can become a free agent after this season, hopes to be back.
"I just hate the feeling I have right now of this is the … last (game) that's guaranteed for me," Miller said. "But the reality is that's the situation I'm in right now. I'm just hoping we can work some things out, and I'd love to come back and be a part of this team next year."
Miller has not played in the same scheme for two straight seasons. During his rookie season, Miller was asked to gain weight and play a two-gap, read-and-react system. When then-coach Raheem Morris became defensive coordinator, Miller was positioned over the center in a traditional Tampa Two.
But this season, Miller has lined up on an angle, tilted over the center, which allows him to use his quickness and strength.
"I think my best attributes are just getting off the ball and playing with my hands," Miller said. "And I think at the point of attack, if I can attack the guy from an angle like that, I don't really think they've got a chance. I really like it, and I feel like it's a perfect fit for me."
Miller's contributions aren't measured in numbers. He has tallied just 14 tackles in 14 games, and his career high is 32 in 2010.
"I think how Roy has played and how physical he is being in the run game has given a chance for some of the run-blocking schemes for Gerald to get a single block, get off and make plays," Bucs defensive coordinator Bill 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 him … or else he's got a chance to really knock the center back and get in the backfield."
McCoy could sense something clicked during training camp, when Miller played at, he said, "another level." And that carried over into the season, when Miller has been able to stay on the field. He has missed just one game due to a concussion.
"My dad said, 'You ever think you'd get to play with that guy?' I said, 'No, I didn't,' " McCoy said. "I've watched him develop. His level of play has gone up each year. And this year, he's played very well. He's been very consistent and solid, and I think everything that's coming his way is very deserving."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]