J. Miller and Browns seem to be perfect fit

Linebacker is thriving in Davis' new regime

November 18, 2001|By Brian Windhorst | Brian Windhorst,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CLEVELAND - Jamir Miller wasn't quite sure what to expect when he walked into Butch Davis' office for the first time.

Miller knew the new Cleveland Browns coach was defense-minded, but he wasn't sure what he had in mind for him.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound outside linebacker had really been the rock in the defense in the expansion team's first two years. He was one of the few things that didn't need much fixing.

And that was why he was pleasantly surprised with the first words out of Davis' mouth.

"One of the first things he told me was that he didn't think I was being used in the best way," Miller said.

Davis and his new defensive coordinator, Foge Fazio, didn't think the old regime, under former Browns coach Chris Palmer, gave Miller enough freedom to make plays. He was relied on heavily in run support and pass coverage rather than on blitz packages, which is where Fazio and Davis thought his talent would be maximized.

So the new defense included more of a pass rush role for the eight-year veteran. The difference has been remarkable.

In the team's opening game, a 9-6 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Miller had two sacks and repeatedly was in quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's face. That set the tone for the first half of the Browns' season.

After eight games, Miller ranks first on the team and fourth in the AFC with seven sacks. Coming into this season, his career high was just 5.5 sacks.

He also has 12 quarterback pressures and six tackles for loss in his 65 stops.

In Cleveland's 24-14 victory over the Ravens last month, he made probably the biggest play in the game during the third quarter. His sack of quarterback Elvis Grbac caused a fumble that teammate Greg Spires recovered at the Ravens' 36-yard line. It also knocked Grbac out of the game.

On the next play, Browns quarterback Tim Couch hit Quincy Morgan for a 36-yard scoring pass that gave Cleveland a 24-6 lead and basically sealed the victory.

"He's making plays in just about every realm, and he's playing a variety of positions," Davis said. "He's playing linebacker in most of our run defenses. He's really playing well."

But even before he started getting into the backfield on a regular basis, Miller was an extremely valued player.

In 1998, Miller led the Arizona Cardinals with 150 tackles. But the former first-round pick in 1994 out of UCLA was angered when he wasn't offered a long-term contract.

The Browns offered a one-year deal and Miller took it, in what was regarded as the team's highest-profile free-agent signing. He proved his value the next season with 147 tackles and a team-high four sacks in a woeful 2-14 year.

Cleveland rewarded him before the season even ended, signing him to a four-year extension worth more than $18 million in December 1999.

"When Jamir signed with the Browns, it was an extension of faith on his part," Browns president Carmen Policy said. "He was taking a shot with this new expansion organization."

Since that first year, the team has done its best to build the defense around him. The Browns took defensive end Courtney Brown with the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 and then got defensive tackle Gerard Warren with the No. 3 pick this year.

The team also went out and signed defensive end Keith McKenzie and linebacker Dwayne Rudd. Middle linebacker Wali Rainer also has developed into a solid player.

"We're still building here. I came here knowing that we would build," Miller said. "And I think we are getting closer every day."

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