ANN ARBOR — Jack Miller is aware of his attributes as part of the Michigan football team’s offensive line. He’s not a returning All-American left tackle like teammate Taylor Lewan, and he’s not a described “mauler” like right guard Kyle Kalis.
Instead, as a center for the Wolverines, Miller has his own strategy at one of the more cerebral positions on the football field.
“For me, it’s trying to be stout enough in the middle, when guys who are 360 pounds are coming off the ball as hard as they can,” the redshirt sophomore said. “That’s my own personal thing. If you ask another center, he might have a different answer.”
Named Michigan’s starting center the week of its season opener, Miller and the No. 11 Wolverines (2-0) host Akron (1-1) in a nonconference game at noon today at Michigan Stadium.
Playing at center comes with more than just the responsibility of snapping the football to the quarterback. It’s a position whose duties include blocking linemen, identifying opposing defenses, and communicating with the offensive line on how to set up against different schemes.
In order to compete to become Michigan’s starting center, Miller considered both the physical and the psychological aspects of the position. The St. John’s Jesuit graduate worked on his conditioning, improved his strength, and put on weight as a way to prepare to face defensive linemen who were bigger, stronger, and older than him.
Then he opened Michigan’s playbook. He studied, watched film, studied some more of the playbook, and continued to work through the offseason.
“I made sure that once we hit camp, I was two steps ahead of everything,” Miller said.
At the start of the season, Miller saw the difference his offseason work made.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise how easy it’s come,” the Perrysburg resident said. “I was worried. I thought, ‘What’s it going to be like when it’s go time, when there’s 10 of your best guys out there and Notre Dame’s front seven?’ Before this year, I’d put in two full years of practicing against guys in here, and it really prepares you.
“Now I’m becoming an older guy and I’m starting to understand the importance of practicing and getting reps.”
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has seen improvement in Miller’s confidence, a byproduct of his personal growth in the program.
“Jack, sometimes he was not confident in what he could do, and I’ve seen that grow,” Hoke said. “That’s part of his maturity. He works awful hard, and he’s really stepped up in his communication, which he has to, at that position.”
Miller said the best gauge of his progress came in last Saturday’s 40-31 win against Notre Dame, in which he had to face Irish All-American nose tackle Louis Nix III, who outweighs him by 50 pounds.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Miller said. “It was a great way to see where I’m at, what I need to do and what I need to get better at.”
Miller also has a certain amenity in working with quarterback Devin Gardner, whom he credits as a prime factor in the cohesiveness of Michigan’s offense.
“Everyone up front feels that way,” Miller said. “He’s doing a phenomenal job of making this offense go, and we’re clicking. The objective of any good team is that you’ve got to get guys on the same page, and you’ve got to get guys who are playing for each other, and that’s what we’re going for. Little things come up all the time, things you wouldn’t think about. But it’s how you work through those together.”
Miller’s confidence has grown, and he has found his role on the Wolverines’ offensive line. But in being named a starter, he now strives to find and maintain a certain balance at center.
“Everyone’s got their own personal way they handle things,” Miller said. “Some guys can get comfortable and that helps them play, and some guys need to be constantly pushed and constantly be in fear for their job. I’m trying to figure out where I fall.
“I’ve had one good game with Notre Dame. I played OK against Central Michigan, but to say that I’ve locked it down is not 100 percent true. But I’m playing well, and I know that if I continue to play well, week in and week out, I can be the guy for us up front.”