Shareef Miller’s first NFL training camp has gone about the way you’d expect it to go for a fourth-round defensive end.
A lot of getting knocked down and getting back up. A lot of self-doubt. A lot of questions.
A lot of listening to advice from the veterans in your position group when you’re not carrying their helmets or getting them water ice or doing some of the other fun stuff that is a part of the rookie hazing ritual.
Tuesday was a rough day for the 6-4, 254-pound Penn State product. In a five-minute span during 11-on-11 work, Miller got tossed to the ground by offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, who is four inches taller and nearly 100 pounds heavier than him, and then got manhandled and pushed inside by Mailata on an outside zone run by Donnel Pumphrey.
“It’s definitely different here [from college],’’ Miller said. “You just have to keep working hard and try to keep getting better.
“The biggest thing is [learning] the technique. Because everybody here is good. Everybody is here for a reason.’’
In a perfect world, Miller, a Philly native who played at both Frankford and George Washington high schools, would have stayed at Penn State for another year and built up his strength and improved both his pass-rush technique and his draft stock.
But how do you look a young man in the eye and tell him he’s better off staying in school, playing for nothing and risking a career-threatening injury when the NFL rookie minimum is $480,000?
“He’s got the size, he’s got all the tools,’’ veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He just needs to learn to go [hard] every play.
“He’s more calm now. He has more calmness about him now than he did in the spring. At first, everything was moving too fast for him. But it’s slowing down for him. He’ll be all right.’’
The Eagles fortified a lot of positions on both offense and defense during the offseason. But there remain questions about defensive end.
Derek Barnett, who played in just six games last year before a torn rotator cuff ended his season, has yet to practice. Vinny Curry, who was brought back after a year in exile in Tampa Bay, is a solid run defender but has had more than four sacks in a season just once in seven years.
The jury still is out on 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat, who played just 68 defensive snaps as a rookie. And Joe Ostman, who had been impressive in the first week-and-change of training camp after spending last year on the team’s practice squad, tore his ACL on Sunday and is out for the season.
You can definitely make the case this defensive-end group isn’t as good as last year’s, though the Eagles should be a lot stronger inside with Malik Jackson and a healthy-again Tim Jernigan teaming with All-Pro Fletcher Cox.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz ideally likes to use a four-man rotation at defensive end. Graham, Barnett, and Curry figure to get the bulk of the snaps, but the fourth job in that rotation still is up for grabs.
If Sweat, who added 22 pounds during the offseason, has a solid preseason, he’ll likely be that fourth guy. Daeshon Hall, Miller and veteran Kasim Edebali, who was signed Tuesday after Ostman was put on injured reserve and will turn 30 next week, round out the edge rushers on the Eagles’ roster.
Miller is finding out what most rookie edge rushers find out when they get to the NFL: The offensive tackles are bigger, stronger and faster than the ones they faced in college. They need more in their bag of tricks than a speed rush off the edge.
“With young guys, the biggest thing is strength and technique,’’ said defensive line coach Phillip Daniels, who spent 15 years in the league as an edge rusher. “They [get here and] don’t have the strength they’re going to need up here.
“And a lot of them don’t have the [pass-rush] technique. They’ve played in college against guys they were able to just dominate. When you come into this league, you’re not going to dominate the guy across from you. They get paid to do a job, too. You need to have a variety of moves. Different ways to attack people.’’
What Miller needs most is an offseason in the weight room with the Eagles’ strength coaches. A year from now, Mailata should have a much more difficult time putting him on his butt.
In the meantime, the good news is that Miller is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He’s constantly picking the brains of the team’s veteran defensive ends.
“I told him to stay in the now,’’ said Curry. “Listen to the coaching and take notes. Lots of notes. Don’t think about anything else but staying in the now.
“The kid is working his [butt] off. He’s learning real quick what he can and cannot get away with against NFL tackles. He’s come a long way, man. He’s doing everything he can to get himself there. I’m actually anxious to see him play on Thursday.’’
The game will tell Miller and his coaches how far he’s come and how far he has yet to go.
“I just can’t wait to get out there and compete,’’ he said. “I just want to run around there and make some plays.
“I’m just trying to get better. I’m working hard in practice. You want to make practice harder than the game.’’