NFL draft picks taken in the first and second rounds almost always show up at NovaCare looking and acting like they are supposed to be there.
There seems to be a quiet confidence with these players that comes with getting picked so high.
After that, later-round players and rookie free agents seem to look like they are feeling their way around. The confidence isn’t as evident as with the top guys.
There are exceptions. Former Wisconsin standout defensive tackle Beau Allen, picked in the seventh round (No. 224 overall) in 2014, looked like a seasoned veteran from day one; both on the field and in the locker room. Allen, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.
Center Jason Kelce, picked in the sixth round (No. 191 overall) in 2011 out of Cincinnati, walked into the Birds complex and was certain he was going to be the starting center right away. He has started all 110 games he has played in Philadelphia including the Birds’ Super Bowl win two years ago.
Former George Washington High School standout defensive end Shareef Miller arrived at the Eagles rookie mini-camp with the same self-confidence you do not normally see from a player drafted in the later rounds.
In high school, Miller had offers from no less than 23 major college programs, including Auburn, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.
Penn State was his No. 1 interest, and that is where he spent the next four years building his NFL resume that included 100 tackles (58 solo) and 14.5 sacks. He recovered two fumbles and caused one during his three seasons in Happy Valley.
As a redshirt freshman, Miller helped Penn State win the Big Ten championship. In the Nittany Lions’ 24-21 win over Ohio State that year, Miller had three tackles, one for a loss.
Even after all that, Miller wasn’t taken until the fourth round (No. 138 overall).
Still, the 6-foot-5, 259-pounder showed up at rookie mini-camp and OTAs looking as self-assured as the top two picks.
“It’s been good, it’s just been different techniques,” Miller said during a one-on-one chat at his locker. “I feel like the speed has been kind of similar. The offense is up tempo. I’m familiar with that.“
Miller faced competition every year that included Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and bowl games that included teams from the Pac-12 and SEC.
Most of the offensive linemen he faced in the Big Ten were in the same range size-wise as the bigs he will be facing on Sundays.
“They’ve got some big guys here, but I’m used to playing against big guys,“ Miller said. “It’s not too overwhelming. It’s just different. The playbook is not too complicated. I picked up the playbook well. It’s just getting comfortable, getting a feel and see where I fit in here, in the defense. I’m just learning from the older guys, see how they work…stuff like that.”
Miller said he has had a chance to meet most of the players in the defensive line room.
“I met Fletcher Cox last week,” Miller said. “I met Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Malik Jackson, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Graham…I met all those guys, they’re great dudes. They all seem like guys I can talk to and lean on.”
Miller said from what he has seen, the Eagles have a rotation similar to that of his college team.
“It’s kind of what Penn State was, too,” Miller said. “We rotated a lot of guys and gave a lot of guys opportunities. It’s the same here. They rotate their guys and keep everybody fresh. Me, I’m just trying to come in and keep my head down, work and when opportunity comes, do what I’ve got to do.”
Growing up in Philadelphia, playing high school football here, then playing college football at Penn State, Miller knows only the Birds. He said the Eagles roster looks stacked.
“I think we’ve got a really good chance to make that long run,” Miller said. “But we have to take it one day at a time, stay together and keep working hard. Being a rookie, I really have to take it one day at a time, not think too far ahead and get better each and every day.”
Miller said he still goes back to his high school neighborhood. He even checked out the big high school all-star game played recently in his neighborhood.
“Yeah, I follow high school football,” said Miller, who seemed to perk up when the subject was broached. “I was at the all-star game on (May 18 at Northeast). I just wanted to see how it was.”
Miller is referring to the Philadelphia City All-Star Football Game, which has been supporting scholar-athletes since 1975.
Despite the recent scandal involving allegations of embezzlement against the game’s former president, coaches from the Philadelphia Public, Catholic and Inter-Ac leagues chose 100 players from the three city leagues to compete, mostly for bragging rights and to raise money for a good cause.
“It was good to see change over the years,” said Miller, who was then asked what was the biggest change he saw in the players. “The linemen were smaller. They’re actually getting smaller. There was more speed, a lot of guys were faster. That was a little different.”
Just as he arrived prepared to start his NFL career on the field, Miller knows he must be prepared for his life off the field. It is unusual for pro sports teams to draft local players. One big reason is the distractions that can come with all the players’ friends and relatives so close to where he is playing. Miller says he already has plans for ticket requests.
“I’m going to handle that real well,” Miller said with a laugh. “You know you’ve got to pay for tickets. The only tickets I owe tickets to are my mom, my grandmother…my girl. Everybody else is going to have to pay!”
It appears nothing will be overwhelming for this rookie. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii