The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are working to determine which player (or perhaps which combination of players) will serve as the primary third receiver behind the prolific duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Second-year candidate Scotty Miller, who figures prominently in that competition, has hit on an approach that involves listening to everything his quarterback tells him and trying to forge a connection with him as quickly as possible.
Smart man. Especially when that quarterback is Tom Brady.
"He's trying to help us all because he has so much knowledge, so I'm just trying to catch on to everything he's been telling me," said Miller of Brady, who is going into his first season as a Buccaneer after 20 years and six titles in New England. "He's worked with so many receivers that are similar to me – so many great receivers in general – so I'm just trying to learn from him. I think if I'm on the same page as him, I'm going to be in a good spot."
Indeed, Brady has brought out the best in every stripe of receiver through the years from speedy big-play specialists like Randy Moss to shifty slot types like Wes Welker to versatile do-it-all athletes like Troy Brown. As Brady adjusts to a new – and very talented – group of pass-catchers in Tampa, there is a tendency to picture the 5-11 Miller as a Julian Edelman type in the slot, but Head Coach Bruce Arians has insisted repeatedly that Miller's speed makes him a great weapon on the outside while Godwin dominates in the slot.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"He's not Edelman because he's real fast," said Arians of Miller. "Whether he plays in the slot some, he plays outside more. Julian's pretty much a slot guy and we don't put guys in just one position. Chris Godwin normally plays in there and we're not taking those catches away from him."
That's good news for Miller, too, because his "favorite thing," as he noted on Tuesday, is running deep routes. He did so very early in the Bucs' first padded practice of 2020 on Monday and got open, which allowed Brady to drop a perfect pass into his hands 50 yards downfield. Miller raved about the throw, saying Brady couldn't have placed it better if he had handed it off. That type of rapport on deep balls, and all types of routes, is what Miller is seeking with Brady in order to improve his chances at getting the call. And it started before the team convened for training camp, in a series of off-site workouts organized by Brady.
"Like you said, we built it up in the offseason a little bit," said Miller. "As you guys know, we were working out, trying to get on the same page because we didn't have the chance to do OTA's and stuff like that. I think we meshed well together right away and I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from him."
Miller would have felt better about 2020 even if Brady had not made the league-shaking decision to come south. The young receiver is in a better place to make the most of his speed and sharp open-field moves, both mentally and physically. Mentally, he's making that jump that helps so many second and third-year players, when his recall of the playbook and his assignments is much more natural and instinctive.
"I am so much more confident this year than I was last year," said Miller. "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 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. This year, I get in the huddle [and] it's easy for me to understand where I go, my assignment, and I'm free to just be myself and make plays out there."
Physically, Miller came into camp bigger and stronger than the year before. He was listed at 170 pounds in 2019 but says that he sometimes struggled to stay out of the 160s. This year he's planning to play at 180 pounds, which he can do without losing any of his speed.
"[I was] just working hard because I knew that was going to be important for me," he said. "In all aspects of my game, just being a little bigger and stronger. I really tried to focus on that in the offseason and now I just have to try and maintain what I built and not lose it with running so much in camp and everything like that."
Presumably, one of the things that the added size and strength will help Miller with is beating the press, which he'll have to do playing on the outside frequently. However, Miller's already shown improvement in that area, and it has a lot more to do with the experience he gained last season than the muscle he put on this offseason. Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver says he appreciated the way Miller continued to play fast even when he was still learning last year, but that beating the press doesn't always mean immediately going to full speed.
"The one thing that stood out to me was his releases at the line," said Garver. "He's a lot more patient as a releaser at the line of scrimmage. It doesn't mean you're slow, it just means you take a little more time to set up the defender. Instead of always just taking this wide release and getting pushed out of bounds, I think those are the things he's really starting to learn and it's really helping him as it relates to press coverage."
Garver noted that both Miller and third-year wide receiver Justin Watson came into camp in excellent shape, ready to hit the ground running. While Miller got bigger, Watson actually trimmed down a bit and is running faster. And Watson is off to a good start himself in the competition for that third spot. But Miller is too quick to get left behind.
"What has stood out about him is he's put on some weight," said Arians. "He's gotten stronger, his speed is showing up every single day."
No matter how that competition shakes out, Miller says he's already "living a dream." He might wake up to find himself running three-wides with Evans and Godwin and catching passes from the G.O.A.T. this fall.
"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. I just want to be able to go home at night, look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I can to make myself the best football player I can be. I'm going to keep doing that and hopefully it will pay off for me."