TAMPA ― With each pass that Scotty Miller catches from Tom Brady, light bulbs are going off in the heads of football fans who have watched this star-is-born routine before.
Overlooked, diminutive receiver from a Mid-American Conference School finds himself in a huddle with Brady and the next thing you know they are making splashy plays all over the field.
Miller, 23, a sixth-round pick of the Bucs last season out of Bowling Green, grew up a Patriots fans in a northwest Chicago suburb. He watched Julian Edelman go from playing quarterback at Kent State to a Super Bowl MVP after developing a symbiotic connection to Brady as a slot receiver.
That’s why Miller has allowed himself to dream big and play bigger despite his (unofficially) 5-foot-11, 174-pound body that he is trying to maintain with a nightly protein shake before bedtime.
‘‘I mean, it’s still a little crazy,” Miller said of playing with Brady. ‘‘I was such a big fan of his growing up, a fan of the Patriots. So it’s still crazy.
‘‘He’s worked with so many different receivers that are similar to me. So many great receivers in general. I’m just trying to learn from him, and I think if I’m on the same page with him, I think I’m going to be in a good spot.”
That spot is the Bucs’ coveted third receiver position behind Pro Bowers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Miller spent the offseason in Tampa working out with Brady and about a dozen other Bucs players at Berkeley Preparatory School.
The chemistry they gained has been obvious early in training camp as Miller had caught some bombs from Brady in each of the first two padded practices at the AdventHealth Training Facility, including a 50-yard pass Monday that he said couldn’t have been in a better spot if the Bucs quarterback “had handed it off.”
Miller caught 13 passes for 200 yards in 10 games last season, one cut short when he missed the final two games with a hamstring injury that he suffered making his only touchdown reception at Detroit.
Miller’s always had trouble maintaining his weight and said he was in the ‘‘160′s” at a point last season.
While he’s gained 10 pounds, his chief competition for the third receiver spot, Justin Watson, has lost that much, and the third-year pro out of Penn is running faster than he ever has.
“The guy that’s looking really, really good is Justin Watson,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “He lost 10 pounds and I think he hit 21 miles per hour yesterday out on the field, and that’s flying. He looked way more confident in what he’s doing.”
Where the comparison to Edelman gets fuzzy — aside from the obvious accomplishments of the Patriots receiver — is that Miller is rarely going to be in the slot. Arians prefers bigger receivers inside, such as Godwin and Larry Fitzgerald, in order to root out linebackers and safeties in the run game.
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‘‘He’s not Edelman, because he’s real fast,” Arians said of Miller. “He plays in the slot some, but he plays outside more. Julian is pretty much a slot guy. ... Chris Godwin normally plays in there and we’re not taking those catches away from him.
“In the passing game, (Miller) is a feisty blocker. For us, the slot is a big-time blocker in 11 personnel (two tight ends, two receivers, one running back). It’s hard for him ― I don’t want him getting broken up blocking and lose some of the speed. There are things he can do in the middle of the field and, when we’re in our four-wideout set, he’s always in the slot. We’ll try to use him as much as we can inside, but he’s such a potent guy outside, too, with that speed.”
Miller’s speed is what attracted the Bucs to him in the first place. His senior year, he had 1,148 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Bowling Green had had only one draft pick in the previous decade when receivers coach Kevin Garver and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich went to Miller’s pro day. That’s where he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and was a secret to the league no more.
After drafting him No. 208 overall, Miller was inactive the Bucs’ first two games and played only eight snaps on offense in the next two. He had three catches for 39 yards in a 37-26 loss to Carolina in London and topped that a few weeks later with a four-catch, 71-yard effort in a loss to the Saints.
‘‘I am so much more confident this year than I was last year,” Miller said. “Last year coming in, the biggest thing was that I was thinking so much. I’d get in the huddle and so much was going through my brain, trying to figure out where I go. Where do I line up? Who I’m hot off of. So many things going through my head and I couldn’t just be me, ball out and just be confident.”
Garver says Miller has become a better route runner and shows more patience setting up defensive backs at the line of scrimmage.
‘‘It doesn’t mean you’re slow. It means you take a little bit more time to set up the defender instead of always taking the outside release and getting pushed out of bounds,” Garver said. ‘‘I think those are the things he’s starting to learn, and it’s really helping him against press coverage.”
The battle for the No. 3 receiver spot will play out over the next month and maybe beyond. Watson, who is listed at 6-feet-3, 216 pounds, has the size and has improved his speed. Rookie Tyler Johnson got a late start due to a soft tissue injury.
But Miller is off to a fast start with Brady, a dream maker for little receivers who find themselves playing huge roles in the biggest games.
‘‘As a kid, this is all you could ever ask for,” said Miller. “Honestly, this is what I expect for myself. I expect to be great. I expect to go out there and work every day as hard as anybody (and) just put myself in a good situation. That’s what I’m going to keep doing..”