Green pastures for Miller
The NFL draft has become a growing spectacle over the last few years.
For TV stations such as ESPN, once the NFL season wraps up in February, it becomes nearly a 24/7 affair to discuss who the top picks are going to be, and where they are going to go.
For Mid-Prairie High School graduate Tanner Miller, who wrapped up a four-year career as a safety for the University of Iowa, the draft was stressful.
After sitting through the seven rounds, his name didn’t get called, but after the draft, his phone rang. Miller is getting his shot in the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers.
“The whole draft experience is pretty nerve-racking, and something that everybody goes through,” Miller said. “It’s all you can ask for, to get a chance. I had an idea that I would get signed as a free agent, and when my agent told me that the Packers had contacted him about potentially signing me, I was ecstatic about it. It’s a great opportunity for me and a great organization.”
Miller started 46 games as a Hawkeye, recording 222 tackles, seven interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and three forced fumbles.
When playing at Mid-Prairie, Miller earned first team all-state honors as a junior and a senior, as well as being the district most valuable player twice.
He also set school records for rushing yards in a season (2,050) and career (4,100) as well as touchdowns in a game (6) and a season (32).
“I was back (in Kalona) after OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and went back to visit them, and they were all excited to hear I signed with the Packers,” Miller said. “A few are big Packers fans. That’s where it started is with my coaches (at Mid-Prairie) and I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me, and that’s where my career began.”
Now Miller goes from being a senior to a rookie in the NFL. Despite free agent offers from the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, the familiarity he had with a couple of players in the Packers’ camp helped make his decision to head to Green Bay.
“When I had to pick and choose between teams as a free agent, that (familiarity with Packer players) was probably the deciding factor,” Miller said. “I had a close relationship with (second year defensive back Micah Hyde), not only at Iowa, but in the secondary. He’ll be in the meeting rooms with me and I’ll be able to pick his brain. Each day, even during OTAs and minicamp, I thought it would help me jump that learning curve a bit quicker, and give me an advantage to learn the system and what the Packers expect of you.”
He also played with third-year defensive lineman Mike Daniels at Iowa for two years.
As a safety, Miller is entering into a Packers’ safety group that was heavily criticized last season. Green Bay was the only team in the NFL to not record an interception by a safety, and the Packers certainly addressed that need quickly by drafting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft.
Hyde is also seeing a potential position change, moving from cornerback to safety, as he has been running with the starters in the early parts of training camp this season.
While it is difficult, it isn’t unheard of for undrafted free agents to make an impact in the NFL.
In 2012, 37 percent of undrafted free agents made either the opening day roster, or earned spots on the practice squad according to NBCSports.com’s ProFootballTalk blog.
And of those who escaped cut day unscathed, the St. Louis Post Dispatch said in 2013 that 20 percent of starters in the NFL were once undrafted
That leaves the door open for Miller to make an impact for the Packers, who have discussed fixing their defensive problems in great detail over the last few years.
“Wherever I ended up I was going to take it as an opportunity to come in and show what I can do,” Miller said. “I want to show that Iowa guys come in and work hard and do things right. I’m trying to come in and work hard, and show what I learned at Iowa. I want to be a hard, tough-nosed player, who is smart. I’m taking it one day at a time, and as long as I keep doing those things and do them right, I think those things will take care of
In practice, Miller will get tested going up against what he calls “one of the best offenses in the league,” helmed by former Super Bowl and NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“For a defense as a whole, you get to go up against A-Rod and (wide receivers) Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, then going against backs like Eddie Lacy just makes us better,” Miller said. “To go up against guys like that day in and day out, we’ll be more prepared for these preseason games and going into the season.”
There are three preseason games scheduled before the first mandatory cut-down date, Aug. 27, where teams are forced to cut their rosters down from 90 to 75 players. The final cut-down is on Aug. 31, when teams will have to trim down to the final 53 players.
“The coaches told me that when you get your opportunity, because free agents don’t get many reps towards the beginning of camp, when that time comes, you have to be ready for it,” Miller said. “As you get further into camp and into the preseason games, that’s when your opportunities will come and you have to make the most of those opportunities.”
The Packers open up the preseason schedule next Saturday, Aug. 9, against the Tennessee Titans, then play in St. Louis on Aug. 16, before taking on Oakland in preseason Week 3 and Kansas City in the final preseason matchup.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Miller said. “It’s our chance to show what we can do, and we are taking those first couple days in practice and this week to get ready. The first preseason game is when things count and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun feeling to be on an NFL field for the first time.”