Ex-Stallion Miller happy to get his kicks in NFL Punter leaves CFL behind, wins job with Steelers


September 07, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht and Mike Preston | Gary Lambrecht and Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Four months ago, punter Josh Miller was learning how to speak French, figuring he would be stuck playing for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Then his young football career took a couple of strange turns, and Miller eventually landed where he always dreamed his journey would take him -- to the NFL. Tomorrow, Miller will be punting for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Ravens.

Miller, 26, laughs at the twists that have marked his path to the NFL. Many Baltimore fans remember Miller as one of the key players on the CFL Stallions. Miller, a former All-American at Arizona, spent two seasons in the CFL. As the league's top punter in 1995, he played a huge role in the Stallions' Grey Cup title.

When the Stallions moved to Montreal earlier this year, Miller prepared to join them, since he had an option year left on his three-year deal.

"I was listening to French tapes, because I didn't want to look bad once I moved there. Last spring, if you asked me what I would doing today, I would have told you I'd be watching [340-pound Montreal offensive lineman] Neal Fort eat," Miller said. "Isn't it crazy? I'm still wondering how this happened."

Miller's odyssey began when Montreal owner Jim Speros, strapped for cash, decided to unload Miller's contract. Speros found a buyer in the Seattle Seahawks, who sought to fill a training camp spot vacated by All-Pro punter Rick Tuten after he began a contract holdout. The Seahawks paid Speros $85,000 to acquire Miller's contract, then gave Miller a $17,500 signing bonus -- more than a third of what he made in the CFL last year.

Miller, who had been cut from his first NFL camp in Green Bay three years ago, never made plans to remain in Seattle.

"I didn't buy 87 Seattle hats and send them to my friends and family. It would have been smarter to buy 87 hats with question marks on them," Miller said.

Sure enough, Tuten agreed to terms midway through camp, and Miller was gone. But he wasn't unattached for long. Within a week, he was in Pittsburgh's camp. The first guy to meet Miller and show him around was veteran punter Rohn Stark. By the end of camp, Stark was gone and Miller, who averaged 41 net yards on 10 preseason punts, was the Steelers' new punter.

Said Steelers coach Bill Cowher: "Josh Miller has got a very strong leg. We were very fortunate to get him. We saw a young punter who's got tremendous potential."

Not to mention one who came cheaply.

Stark, a 14-year veteran, was due to earn a $390,000 salary plus incentives in 1996. Miller got a three-year deal that will pay him a base salary of $145,000 and included no signing bonus. But it contains enough incentives for Miller to triple his salary.

"I live my life in the big picture," Miller said. "I'm wearing a helmet, I'm getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to kick a ball, and I'm going to enjoy every moment, knowing this won't last forever."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda would like to have another fullback on the roster, but any additions are limited because of salary cap concerns.

Carwell Gardner is the only Ravens fullback and he missed practice time this week because of a shoulder injury.

Gardner is expected to start tomorrow against the Steelers.

"I don't think that is possible at this time because of cap money," said Marchibroda. "If Carwell gets injured, then we would just go with a one-back."

Marchibroda said using running back Leroy Hoard at the position was not an option even though the muscular Hoard (5-11, 225 pounds) was the AFC's Pro Bowl fullback in 1994.

"I'm not sure, but I don't think he is quite big enough at this point," said Marchibroda.

Easy does it

The Ravens practiced in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts yesterday despite the rain. Marchibroda got in half of his workout before giving in to Mother Nature. The Ravens will have a walk-through practice this morning before heading to Pittsburgh the afternoon.

"Practice was excellent and I thought the players were focused," said Marchibroda. "There was a lot of intensity during the time we worked."

Marchibroda continues to have little contact during practice, unlike many other teams. Most teams practice in full uniform Wednesday, then start scaling down for game day.

Marchibroda practices in shorts and shoulder pads on Wednesday.

"Most players are still sore on Wednesday, which is the day we start putting in the game plan. I have found out players learn more on that day when they don't have to worry about protecting themselves," said Marchibroda. "It took me 30 years to learn that."

Like old times

Tomorrow's game is a homecoming game of sorts for Ravens outside linebacker Jerrol Williams. Williams played for the Steelers from 1989 through 1991, leading the team in sacks with nine in his last season.

"I had a lot of fun there," said Williams. "We played some serious football, but that was long ago. I still say hello to some of the guys when I see them, but I haven't kept in touch with a lot of them."

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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