SPARTANBURG – When his helmet comes off and he takes a knee and a deep breath, you can almost see the gears turning in Christian Miller's head.
The rookie outside linebacker is a real student of the game, and after just about every training camp practice, he makes his way to his position coach Everette Brown for some office hours. He asks good questions. He absorbs information.
"He's sharp and he holds himself accountable," Brown said. "That's a big reason we drafted him. And it makes him fun to coach."
The fourth-round pick from Alabama has the kind of physical gifts that will give him a real chance at success. That's obvious when the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder walks onto the practice field.
But there's so much to process as a rookie. It can be easy to overthink things, and that slows you down between the lines.
"Christian is a real methodical kid," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He almost plays by the numbers too much. I tell him – just go out and be creative. Make the plays that you did. He's trying not to make a mistake, and you can see that it in some guys when you watch the way they move. Their eyes are everywhere because they are trying to make sure they're not missing something.
"I just keep telling him, 'Hey, once you see what you're supposed to see, just go.'"
Read and react. That's where Miller and all the rookies want to get to. But they've got to master the little things first.
"I knew it would be tough. I knew there would be hard days and good days," Miller said. "After being in the playbook for months now, I pretty much have that down. At this point it's about the mechanics and the details and finding what works for me. Just trying to take coaching and apply it every day."
Miller is a little ahead of the curve thanks to the experience he gained at Alabama, where he was surrounded by NFL talent everywhere he looked.
But no matter where you went to school, the jump to the league is a sizable one.
"It does help, for sure, coming from a program like that," Miller said. "But there definitely is a transition playing at the highest level. These guys are working for a job. It's great competition. The speed of the game is really fast. Guys are big and strong.
"But you always have to know there is a reason that they brought you here."
The big reason? To get after the quarterback.
"We're giving him new tools to win in the NFL," Brown said. "We want to make it hard on him now and consistently challenge him."
It's a work in progress. But when it all comes together for Miller, he and first-rounder Brian Burns are going to make quite a tandem off the edge.
"He's got a great skill set. He's long," Rivera said. "He and Brian Burns have the type of skills you look for at outside linebacker. I think they are both going to grow into their positions very well."
Photos from the 11th practice of training camp at Wofford College.