Ventrell Miller embracing opportunity to lead in middle of Gators' defense
Ventrell Miller was already working on growing as a leader –– then the pandemic hit. After starting 11 games last football season at linebacker for the Gators, Miller was preparing for a Spring where he could showcase his development both on and off the field.
Florida had lost redshirt senior linebacker David Reese, a highly regarded leader whose knowledge of the team’s defense was imparted to Miller and others over the last several seasons, in the middle to graduation, and now Miller was vying for the daunting task of serving as his replacement.
“Definitely sad losing a great brother. I’m going to embrace the role,” Miller said of Reese’s impact. “I’m embracing the role, doing everything I can to get myself prepared, and my teammates as well.”
Both the void left by Reese and Miller’s subsequent preparation for the role haven’t gone unnoticed by UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who said the task of searching for the ideal replacement in the middle isn’t one he and Gators linebackers coach Christian Robinson take lightly.
“Any time you lose a guy like David, who's been a veteran and has played a lot of snaps here, has been a quarterback, that's a situation you've got to really work with,” Grantham said. “Been very impressed with Ventrell Miller and his leadership role. Ventrell has done a good job of losing a little bit of weight. You can see it athletically the way he's playing. Obviously you've got him, you've got James Houston, and then trying to get some of the young guys in there as well. Really been pleased with Ventrell's leadership at that position.”
But like all student-athletes, Miller’s opportunity was essentially postponed for the Fall due to the pandemic, which has now brought its own set of unique challenges for the former Lakeland standout to display his leadership capabilities during Florida’s preseason camp.
“Especially times right now, with COVID, you’ve got to hold your teammates accountable. (I’m) trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page,” Miller said. “At the beginning, there was a lot of concerns. Everybody was optimistic, and as things have progressed everybody’s trying to be accountable and self-disciplined and just get to that season (by) social distancing, and all that kind of stuff.”
With the Gators looking to rotate at multiple positions to stay fresh in 2020 after losing out on significant offseason training and conditioning, Miller understands not only is he in for an even larger role than last season, where he finished second on the team in tackles with 55, but so are his underclassmen teammates. Losing out on several critical stretches of offseason workouts, coupled with the added uncertainty of the season, means the Gators in a sense are in a hurry to play catch-up, said Miller.
“You just lose out on reps. Especially for the young guys, the young guys not getting those reps,” Miller said. “It’s been a rush with everyone trying to get as many reps as they can.”
Considering repetition is often the case for growth and success when it comes to training, and it’s no wonder why Miller is among the countless concerned with the hiatus in training this year.
For himself, it’s another key to filling Reese’s shoes.
“I think just gaining more experience, being a student of the game, learning more about the game –– those things take you far, film, all those kinds of, just learning about football, what the offense has got going on, being able to use my instincts,” Miller, asked how he can continue to improve, said. “I feel like I’ve stepped up in a lot of aspects. Just like nutrition, the weight room, like I said being a student of the game, learning more stuff. It’s been a great road, and since we’ve had to be more self-disciplined with COVID, you’ve got to be more self-disciplined and hold yourself accountable.”
Now less than three weeks out from the season opener at Ole Miss on Sept. 26, Miller said UF’s offense has been operating at a faster rate despite the lack of a traditional offseason of development, which has pushed the defense in camp to continually adjust –– an exercise that will benefit Miller and the team alike.
If Miller is to help fill the void he’s preparing for, he knows he needs to embrace every chance to develop further.
“They change it up, you never really know what the coaches and players got going on. They definitely do a good job of their effort and showing different things, and we just got to react to how they’re doing what they do,” Miller said of UF’s offense. “Everybody’s buying in, things are starting to look good as an offense, and I like the way they’re out there performing and getting us better. Getting to see different looks and all those kind of things, getting us ready for the season.”