Prince Miller's 57-yard punt return in the Ravens' exhibition opener proved to be a passion play.
When he juked past a Carolina Panther at his own 40-yard line, it showed his elusiveness to the teams who chose not to draft him. When the 5-foot-8 Miller stiff-armed two tacklers in a span of 10 yards, it delivered a statement to the scouts who questioned his size.
By the end of the eye-popping return, Miller had broken tackle attempts by more than half of Carolina's return team -- six total -- which underscored a new reason to make the Ravens this year.
Miller's life changed dramatically four days before the game, when he watched the birth of his first child, Nyla Imani Miller. His increased determination comes from the feeling that he's playing for his daughter now.
"I was motivated beforehand because it's a dream to be on an NFL roster," Miller said. "But having a kid, it's on your mind that I need this job a little bit more. It's about supporting your family."
Miller, 22, is trying to become the latest undrafted rookie to make an impact for the Ravens. The list has included running back Priest Holmes, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Will Demps.
Miller's first impression was a strong one. The former Georgia cornerback made three tackles and broke up two passes (nearly intercepting one) against Carolina on Thursday.
But his best shot at surviving the final cutdown is on punt returns. The Ravens could go with Tom Zbikowski or Chris Carr as a returner, but the team might prefer to give the job to Miller because it would reduce the chance of injury for two likely starters in the secondary.
Miller, who was Georgia's special teams captain last season, caught the attention of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who described the big return as "an electric play."
"I think he showed that he's got the ability in punt return to make a difference, and he did certainly in that game," Rosburg said. "While the play was blocked pretty well, it wasn't blocked as well as it was run by him."
The Ravens first contacted Miller after his Pro Day in the middle of March. He was a favorite of Joe Hortiz, the team's director of college scouting. When Miller wasn't selected in the draft (255 players were taken in seven rounds), his cell phone was "ringing off the hook" from interested NFL teams, he said.
Miller chose to go to the Ravens because he thought it would be his best opportunity to make an NFL team. And it appears he chose wisely. He is currently the nickel back with the first-team defense because of injuries (Domonique Foxworth and Lardarius Webb) and the surprising release of veteran Walt Harris.
"It shows they have trust in me," Miller said. "Once you're in with those guys who have been in the league for years, you don't want to mess up. You're scared to mess up. It makes you be more on top of your game. With the kind of pressure this team is under, you don't want to be the weak link. It kind of forces you to perform better."
Training camp has presented several bumps along the way for Miller. In Monday's practice, he was beaten to the end zone by tight end Todd Heap and he gave up another touchdown to wide receiver Anquan Boldin on a fade route.
"He's obviously done some great things with the guys down due to injury," secondary coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's made some mistakes, but they're at full speed. That's all we can ask."
Defending taller receivers on fade routes will always be a challenge for Miller, who is the shortest Ravens cornerback by 2 inches. He has to learn to time his jumps and compete for balls.
Miller understands what it takes to go against big receivers. He covered Dez Bryant (6-2) at Oklahoma State and went against Mohamed Massaquoi (6-2) in practice.
"People think if you're 6-1 with long arms, you can play better than a guy 5-8 with short arms," Miller said. "Like my coach always told me, you play with your head and your heart. For certain things, size does matter. But for the most part, guys who work hard come out on top."
Size was one of the reasons why Miller wasn't among the 35 cornerbacks invited to the NFL combine despite 31 starts in the Southeastern Conference.
"I was a bit frustrated when things went down the way they did," Miller said. "But I'm happy that I'm getting a shot now. Coming here, I know it's a great opportunity, great organization and great players. I knew I was going to have to come in and work hard. I'm loving it."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article
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