TAMPA — For all the hype surrounding prized rookie ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, along with touted tackle Gerald McCoy, the quiet man in the middle holds a key for the Bucs defensive line.
Nose tackle Roy Miller's name — and role — is far from flashy, but the 6-foot-2, 310-pounder plugs the middle, takes on double teams and helps stuff the run, making him the glue.
"If we didn't have Roy, none of those guys would matter," defensive line coach Keith Millard said. "They wouldn't be able to do the things we brought them to do. … It all starts with Roy on defense. …
"He's a fire hydrant in a dog show, that's what he is."
Miller, 24, a third-round pick in 2009, has watched the Bucs build their defensive line through the draft, with McCoy (third overall in 2010), Clayborn (No. 20 overall this year) and Bowers (second round this year). Tampa Bay also selected defensive tackle Brian Price in the second round last year, envisioning that he could share some snaps in a rotation with Miller.
But as Price dealt with injuries, Miller started all 16 games last season, and his stats (47 tackles, one sack) didn't reveal his importance. Coach Raheem Morris calls Miller, who has played in 31 of 32 games over two years, a "constant, steady run-stopping force."
"People don't realize how good Roy is and how much he does for this team," McCoy said. "It's hard to move him, he's such a strong guy, and he's quicker than people think. … It's not easy to do what he does and he does it very well. There's a reason he's still here."
McCoy and Miller have been friends since McCoy unsuccessfully tried to lure Miller to play with him at Oklahoma. Miller decided on Texas, but always hoped he'd play with McCoy.
When that dream came true Miller gave up his number (93) to McCoy, who had always worn it, for a "friendly discount." Then he helped show him the ropes.
"He taught me how to be a professional — how to prepare, how I face games, how I attack things," McCoy said.
Millard said what makes Miller unique is his versatility; he's the "pit bull" tough and strong enough to hold his own with double teams, but also can move, getting up field.
"He's got the tough duty," said Millard, a former All-Pro defensive tackle. "There's no better guy to do it than him."
Miller said he wants to be more "well-rounded." There have been adjustments for him after being used in three different techniques in three seasons. This year he'll line up more squarely with the opposing offensive linemen as opposed to being at an angle last season.
But as Miller learns, he has welcomed more of a leadership role, including with rookies such as Bowers and Clayborn.
"These guys have had excellent college careers — they brought these guys in, high profile guys," Miller said. "But one thing we try to let them know is you have to work, guys have been wanting to play your spot. … These guys listen, they're ready to work. And when you got all those things with great talent, it's dangerous what you can get if we all work together."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]