As Shareef Miller enters his fourth season at Penn State, the redshirt junior is finding himself as a mentor to the youngsters behind him. Meanwhile, he’s drawing on the experience of a former Nittany Lion to hone in on his own skills. A goal in mind? Break the school’s all-time sack record, while helping lift his team to championship heights.
It’s all part of it for Miller, whose more modest desire is to record at least 10 sacks during the 2018 season. His more ambitious goal? Tally more than Carl Nassib’s 15.5 he set in 2015.
It’s a realistic objective in Miller's mind, as he says he feels more comfortable and confident in his role since he arrived on campus for that same fall that Nassib set the program's high mark. He redshirted that year before appearing in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2016. As a 12-game starter last season, Miller is discovering that “the game has really slowed down for me now,” he said. “I can read some plays before it happens, so I did a real good job this spring just anticipating plays.”
That’s just one area of growth for Miller, but there are others that he’s been focused on improving.
Another is his hand placement against offensive linemen. More specifically, he said, “hand accuracy in the pass rush, when to use my hands, when to attack the offensive lineman. During the season I was just throwing my hands but I was missing. … That’s what I’m working on.”
He especially made it a priority at times this winter and off-season when he was home visiting in Philadelphia. It was brought to Miller’s attention that he needed to become more effective with his initial punch and arm extension by former Penn State letterman Deion Barnes.
Fellow Philadelphia natives, they have known each other before Miller enrolled at Penn State as a three-star defensive end.
“We’ve just stayed connected and I still talk to him,” Miller said. “I still talk to him almost every day and I show him clips of my one-on-ones. Then he helps me on them and then I go home and I work out with him to get better.”
As a sophomore, Miller finished with 37 total tackles, including 5.0 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss. Barnes, who played for PSU from 2012-14 and was the Big Ten Freshman of the year in ’12, watched Miller’s play closely.
Barnes now trains high school and college defensive linemen in the southeast region of Pennsylvania and when he watched Miller, he saw an effective athlete. But at 6-foot-5 and more than 250 pounds he also saw someone who had the ability to provide more of a physical presence along the edge. But one critical tool was missing.
“He said I wasn’t real deliberate with my hands,” Miller said. “He had me doing all these different types of drills and he actually had an offensive lineman moving in his stance and he wanted my hands to hit him and have my eyes coordinate with my hands. That was something that he noticed when he watched film on me: My eyes and my hands aren’t on the same level. That’s why I keep throwing my hands and I don't see my target and keep missing, so he has some drills for me that I look at my target and be accurate and deliberate with my hands. That’s a lot of stuff I got from working at home with him. I brought it this spring ball.”
Often accompanying Miller at those workouts with Barnes is teammate Shaka Toney, who is also a native of Philadelphia. Miller has seen Toney, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season with the Nittany Lions, also develop more precise technique under the tutelage of Barnes.
Toney already had natural ability with his hand placement, but combined with added size – he’s now listed at 224 pounds – he’s developing into a more well-rounded DE. At Monday’s practice, he was running with the first team, opposite of Miller.
“Shaka is going to be real good,” Miller said. “He gained a lot more weight. He’s stronger than he was during the season and he’s just real good with his hands. He’s stronger and got more powerful and he uses his hands real well. He’s been working out with me and Deion, too, so we’ve been working on that stuff since the winter.”
Miller helping to groom recently converted DE
James Franklin confirmed after practice Monday that early enrollee freshman Nick Tarburton is now practicing with the defensive ends.
Tarburton started the spring with the linebackers, the position at which he was ranked with four stars in high school, but Franklin foreshadowed during Tarburton’s recruitment that he was offered “as a big athlete,” he said, who “could end up being a defensive linemen for us as well. That’s where it started, and then it progressed when he showed up and stepped on the scale. He was 263 pounds.”
Although Tarburton dropped about 20 pounds in his first couple months on campus, it has become more clear this spring that “his greatest potential here at Penn State and down the road is at defensive end,” Franklin added.
Since he’s made the switch, Tarburton has already been impressing his new position-mates.
“We call him little TJ Watt,” Miller said. “He’s going to be real good. He plays real fast and he’s real aggressive. He just doesn’t have the technique yet. He’s still learning but once he gets the technique he’s going to be real good.
“I think it was a real good change for him. He’s real raw. He just needs technique and stuff like that. He needs to keep working and guys like me and [Ryan] Buchholz are going to help him. He’s going to be real good. He plays fast and he’s aggressive, so once he gets his technique down he’s going to be real good.”