published Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Tennessee Vols' Corey Miller's mom helped him refocus

Montana running back Jordan Canada (26) is hit by Tennessee defensive lineman Corey Miller (80) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Montana running back Jordan Canada (26) is hit by Tennessee defensive lineman Corey Miller (80) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- When Corey Miller needed advice to get his Tennessee football career back on track, he knew where to turn.

Mom knows best.

"Had to get my mind right," Miller said Monday afternoon after the Volunteers' first full-squad practice of training camp.

The 6-foot-3, 257-pound defensive end was not with the team during the spring semester as he focused on academics and worked an on-campus graphic-design job.

Miller admitted he needed to change his focus to remain a Vol. So the junior "talked to Mom a lot," referring to his mother in Duncan, S.C.

"I hurt me, man, not being with my guys, so I got back this summer and took it full-fledged with all the weight on my shoulders," Miller said. "There was times I was kind of unsure [of a return]. But as far as everything goes, I just had to keep working hard, keep my head, keep pushing forward."

Though he was around the program, Miller said he worked out on his own to keep his body in the proper condition, but coach Derek Dooley wants to see that work ethic continue for a player who potentially could help the Vols' defensive line.

"The real test is what's he going to do this fall and this semester," Dooley said. "Can you do it over time? It's that word 'commitment': It's doing something long after the mood has left you.

"It's easy to get committed when your back is against the wall, but then when that mood leaves you ... just like right now -- all that early excitement of camp, 'We're going to be good.' Well, at some point the mood leaves you. Now that's what tests your level of commitment."

Further testing Miller's commitment is the Vols' new defense, though he views it differently. He believes he's a "better fit" in the new formation.

After bouncing between defensive end and tackle the first two years of his career, Miller will stay at end in coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense. After missing 15 valuable spring practices, though, he's aware he's facing an uphill game of catch-up.

"Of course it's like starting from scratch," Miller conceded. "But you know, it's study habits and getting in the playbook. It's hard work, and you've just go to get it done.

"I do like the change. Wherever they need me at is wherever I'm going to fit in at. I'm just going to help the team any way possible."

Miller has played in all 25 games of his career, first getting attention as a pass-rush specialist his freshman season. He's had identical statistics -- 13 tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss -- each year.

He was a four-star prospect and Rivals.com's 66th-ranked player overall coming out of powerhouse Byrnes High School outside of Spartanburg.

"It's good getting him back," Dooley said, "and I think he's showed some good things in our nickel package where he can help us. He's not a huge guy, but he's got some good twitch. He's going to be right there in the mix.

"This is his second chance. He kind of messed up in the classroom, and hopefully he learned from it. Hopefully everybody else learned from it, too."

Miller's plan is to make the most of another chance he's been given.

"It's nothing but looking forward from here on out," he said. "I feel like I understand the defense a lot better. I'm just going to take it on and see what I can do.

"The coaches have been treating me well. They're great guys. I love the new coaching staff ... so I'm going to work hard for them."

Thanks, Mom.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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