Scotty Miller is talented enough to play in the NFL and fully driven to succeed at football's highest level. That's been proven during his three seasons in the league since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, particularly during the team's 2020 Super Bowl campaign, in which a string of big plays culminated in one game-changing moment in the NFC Championship Game.
Despite that, and despite a well-deserved confidence in himself, Miller can't be fully certain that he will still be on the Buccaneers' roster a week from now.
That's true, of course, for a number of talented players in one of the NFL's deepest receiving corps. It is widely believed that Tampa Bay's wideout group in the regular season will start with the imposing quartet of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage and Julio Jones. If that proves to be the case, and if the Bucs keep the standard six receivers on the roster, that leaves only two spots for the likes of Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, Breshad Perriman, Cyril Grayson, Deven Thompkins, Jerreth Sterns and Kaylon Geiger. Every single one of those pass-catchers has given the Bucs reasons to want to keep them around, either last season, in this year's camp and preseason, or both.
Miller, who lasted until the sixth round of his draft despite his blazing speed in part because he's not the biggest receiver around, doesn't have to make a shift in attitude to confront his current reality. He's been operating in the same manner since he was a child.
"Yeah, it's never going to be easy," said Miller. "Nothing's ever going to be handed to you. It's kind of like my journey my whole life with football, ever since I was a little kid it's never been easy. So I've just got to fight for everything and that's just what I'll continue to do the rest of my career. It's just a blessing to be out here and I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I get."
Miller has had a strong training camp and after coming back from a troublesome turf toe injury last season he's as fast as ever and once again a potential deep threat. In 2020, he quickly formed a connection with new Bucs' quarterback Tom Brady and ended up with 33 receptions for 501 yards and three touchdowns. He was responsible for three of the Bucs' eight longest touchdown catches that season, playoffs included, including the aforementioned 39-yard shocker just before halftime in Green Bay, a play that was instrumental in sending the Buccaneers to Super Bowl LV.
But Miller has always maintained that he is more than just a straight-line burner, and indeed his tape at Bowling Green shows an awful lot of YAC. To make himself more effective out of the slot and in the middle of the field, Miller put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. You could say he's been fighting for this roster spot since last season ended.
"Maybe … [it's] just helping me got off press, blocking, stuff like that, and really just staying healthy out there, being able to take hits over the middle," said Miller of his added muscle. "We don't really tackle too much in practice, but in the games that's where it really pays off, going in there and digging guys out in the run game or taking hits over the middle."
Miller also continues to work on adding value in the third phase of the game. Head Coach Todd Bowles has made it clear that the fifth and sixth receiver spots need to be filled by players who can contribute on special teams. Miller has been considered an option at punt returner since his arrival, though a rarely used one, but he can help on the coverage units as well. He notably recovered a fumble on a punt return to help complete a massive rally in a win at Indianapolis last year. His main asset as a gunner in 2021 was his speed, as he often got down the field so fast that the return man was forced in the opposite direction. With his added bulk he will likely be a more forceful tackler in 2022, as well.
"I'll do whatever I'm asked to do," said Miller. "I played a little gunner last game, a little bit last year down the stretch. I'm sure I'll play a little bit this weekend in this last game. And like everything I do, if I'm playing gunner I'm trying to run down there and make the play, and try to have fun with everything I do."
Coincidentally, the Buccaneers are headed back to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy this week for the last of three preseason games. The outcome of the game isn't particularly critical but there will definitely be important outcomes for a number of the players taking part. The Buccaneers must get their roster from 80 down to 53 – and their receiving corps from 12 down to six or seven – by the following Tuesday. They will likely begin that work on Sunday. It won't be easy, particularly at Miller's position, but Saturday's game will help make the final call.
"I don't think it's any secret if you guys watch our games: We have a lot of receivers that can play, so we'll probably have some tough decisions there," said Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek. "But I think at all the positions we're going to have some tough decisions and we'll look forward to next Tuesday when we have to do that. But guys have one more chance to build on their résumé, so we're looking forward to Saturday night, too."
The Buccaneers also have one more practice on Thursday, which is another chance for the receivers to put their talents on display. Miller knows that every such workout is an opportunity of its own.
"Just the same mindset as always, just locked in, ready to go," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's right now because it's the last game or just any day, really. Any opportunity we get to come out here and work, just take full advantage of it and try to be the best player I can be."