After 'heartbreaking' 2021, UF's Ventrell Miller looking sharper than ever | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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ATLANTA – SEC Media Days was never meant to rival Paris Fashion Week, but even offensive linemen like to look good for the camera.

Hence, Richard Gouraige showed up in a tasteful blue suit, white shirt and orange tie when the Florida entourage arrived Wednesday. Anthony Richardson had a muted orange-and-blue plaid striped suit and orange bowtie.

It was splashy enough that Gouraige conducted a faux interview and asked Richardson to rank Best Dressed Gators.

“When it comes to putting on a suit, I’m gonna say I’m top two,” Richardson said. “But I’m not number two.”

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What's better than a great suit? Ventrell Miller no longer wearing sling

With all due sartorial respect, Ventrell Miller might disagree. Though as sharp as he looked, Florida fans were more impressed by what he wasn’t wearing than what he was.

Miller sported a crisp white shirt, orange bowtie, blue coat, white loafers and — the piece de resistance — orange-and-blue checkerboard slacks.

Who is this guy’s tailor?

“Got them off the rack. I saw them and I had to put them on,” Miller said. “In Gainesville.”

Gainesville?

We not only have better linebackers than Paris. Now we have better pants. And what was the best part of Media Days for fans of fashion and football?

Miller wasn’t wearing his sling. The one that became a symbol of Florida’s defensive futility in 2021.

Miller was fitted for it after suffering a torn biceps tendon a week into the 2021 season. Try as he might, he couldn’t play linebacker with one arm.

UF also lost its defensive heart.

Miller is one of those people genetically engineered for football mayhem. You can tell them just by listening to the game. They savor contact and fly all over the field looking for it.

That trait can be taught, but the best linebackers are born with it. It showed in pee-wee ball in Lakeland, when Ventrell the tailback would stop running and start tackling would-be tacklers.

Miller took that mentality to Florida way back when Jim McElwain was still around. He blossomed into the team’s leading tackler as a redshirt junior, twice winning SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

He hobbled through the final two games on a bad ankle. Miller considered declaring for the NFL Draft, but he wasn’t happy with limping into the college sunset.

If the finish of the 2020 season left him empty, 2021 left him heartbroken. It had barely started before he was wheeled into surgery and awoke with the new fashion accessory he’d wear for months.

“Man, you’re in a sling,” he said. “Walking with a sling the whole time.”

It’s hard to say whether the Gators missed Miller more than Miller missed the Gators. The coaching staff had him accompany the team to Kentucky for the first road game. His presence would be worth the seat on the charter flight.

Miller could yell and cajole only so much. The Wildcats won, triggering a series of defensive debacles. LSU ran wild. Samford rolled up 42 points in a half. The bystander wearing the No. 51 jersey and sling hated what he saw.

“It was heartbreaking,” Miller said. “Just to see your team go out there, and you couldn’t be there with them.”

Billy Napier: 'He's got a great presence and energy'

Florida's Ventrell Miller talks with the media July 20, 2022, during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

He finished the season facing the same question as the year before. Should I stay or should I go?

“I always felt like I had unfinished business here,” Miller said.

He was still rehabbing in spring practice, and he missed a lot of practice taking a class offered only on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. When Miller did practice, he made an impression on the new staff.

“He’s a vocal guy,” Coach Billy Napier said. “He’s got great presence and energy. And he’s certainly been a productive player.”

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The new defensive scheme should offer Miller more freedom to blitz, fly around and be his reckless self. Motivation will not be an issue.

“It’s a personal year for me,” Miller said.

He sounded like the “This time it’s personal,” tagline from “Jaws: The Revenge.” It was the last and arguably the worst of “Jaws” sequels.

That aside, Miller relishes the thought of again playing the role of the merciless football predator.

“I’m back,” he proclaimed at Media Days.

And with no sling, he’s looking better than ever.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley

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