He's Taking The Torch From Lt Miller Next Great Giants Linebacker?

Posted: November 19, 1993

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It is impossible to find a New York Giants fan, even one, who would stick up for Ray Handley.

To hear most New Yorkers tell it, Bill Parcells never made a mistake in eight years as Giants head coach and Handley, his successor, never did anything right.

Overall, it's true, Parcells was an excellent coach and Handley was a thickheaded bumbler. Their records bear that out.

But there were times when Handley was right and Parcells was wrong.

Take the case of Corey Miller.

Parcells selected Miller in the sixth round of the 1991 draft. The 6-2, 245-pound Miller was a linebacker at South Carolina, but Parcells planned to use him at tight end.

One month after the draft, Parcells resigned and Handley took over. At minicamp, Handley took one look at Miller's thick torso and mean streak and said: "This kid's a linebacker."

Score one for Handley.

Today, Miller is a rising star, a hard-hitting, big-play linebacker who is being groomed to take over the Lawrence Taylor role when the great LT finally calls it a career, probably after this season.

"Corey has matured a lot," Taylor said. "Last season, he was just a strong guy out there trying to play football. Now he is getting into the game plan. He's starting to learn about the different players.

"Corey is playing very, very well. I expect him to carry on the tradition of great (Giants) linebackers long after I'm gone."

Miller filled in for Taylor last season when the future Hall of Famer went down with a torn Achilles' tendon. This season, Miller moved to the strong side, replacing Carl Banks, who signed with Washington as a free agent.

Miller, 25, is second on the team with five sacks, two fewer than end Keith Hamilton and two more than Taylor, who has been slowed by a hamstring pull. Miller earned a game ball in the 21-10 win over the Eagles last month as he recorded two sacks (including one that sidelined Bubby Brister) and one interception.

It used to be that whenever the Eagles played the Giants, they had to worry about Taylor taking over the game. This Sunday at Veterans Stadium, they will have to pay equal attention to Miller, No. 57, crashing in from the other side.

As Giants quarterback Phil Simms said: "Every time you look up, there's Corey making another play."

Miller has been the team's most productive linebacker this season, yet he still plays in the shadow of No. 56. Someday Miller will inherit Taylor's position on the weak side, where he will be the primary pass rusher and defensive catalyst.

Not an easy task, following LT.

"I haven't even thought about that," Miller said. "LT is still here and we've got a Philly team coming up that has lost five games in a row. That makes them very dangerous. I'm focusing on that.

"One thing I've learned watching LT: You get up for every game. His intensity level is the same every week, that's why he is so great. He is my teammate, but he's also my hero."

Miller was afraid to even approach Taylor during his first training camp. Miller was the last of three linebackers drafted by the Giants that year, following Colorado's Kanavis McGhee (second round) and Florida State's Anthony Moss (fifth).

As a rookie scuffling to make the roster, Miller did not feel it was his place to cozy up to the veterans, especially Taylor. Said Miller: "I was in awe when I was around him."

It was Taylor who broke the ice, complimenting Miller for a play in practice. Gradually, the veteran took the rookie - who was then playing inside linebacker - under his wing.

Last season, when Miller moved outside and replaced the injured Taylor, they developed a pupil-teacher relationship. Miller intercepted a pass in one game and returned to the bench to find Taylor waiting with a smile on his face.

"He said, 'Keep it up, you might have a future in this game,' " Miller recalled.

The two linebackers drafted ahead of Miller both fizzled. McGhee is in his third year as a backup with the Giants. The only reason he has hung on this long is because he was a second-round pick. Moss was released in his first training camp.

Miller, meanwhile, looks like a future All-Pro.

"It was a matter of getting the opportunity to play," he said. "I knew I could do it. I've been blessed with a ton of physical talent."

Miller struggled the last two seasons playing the read-and-react scheme of defensive coordinator Rod Rust. It was a chess game, with each player going through a mental checklist on every snap.

"If A lines up over B and C goes in motion, then I cover Y, but if A goes in motion and C stays home, then I . . . "

Meanwhile, the play was unfolding and Emmitt Smith was running for 25 yards.

This season, new coach Dan Reeves brought defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with him from Denver. Nolan, whose father, Dick, was a defensive back on the great Giants teams of the '50s, put in a system that was simpler and more aggressive.

The basic idea is for the linemen to hit the gaps and linebackers to flow to the ball. It allows Miller to use his speed and, in his word, "attack." Last season, it was more like look, think and chase.

"As a linebacker, you're free in this system," said Miller, who trimmed down 15 pounds before this season to improve his quickness. "It is much easier to make plays.

"Some systems, when you play this (strong) side, all the coach wants you to do is take on blockers and turn running plays inside. You do all the work, the inside 'backers make all the tackles and they go to the Pro Bowl and sip mai tais.

"Here, if I can shed the block and make the play, I make it."

Linebacking has keyed the Giants' defense this season as the team has allowed an average of 13.1 points per game. The success is a surprise, considering the dual loss of Banks and Pepper Johnson, last year's leading tackler. Johnson was released after voicing displeasure with his role in the new defense.

Most people thought the team would be softer with two ex-AFC linebackers, Carlton Bailey (ex-Bill) and Michael Brooks (ex-Bronco), in the middle, the unproven Miller replacing Banks and Taylor coming off a severe injury at age 34. Instead, the performance has gone up.

Bailey and Brooks rank 1-2 in tackles with 67 and 64, respectively. Miller is playing like a Pro Bowler and Taylor had his best game of the season last Sunday against Washington. He was credited with 10 "hurries" of Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien in the 20-6 win.

"I'm not trying to put out the image I'm the same player I was four, five or six years ago," said Taylor, who credits acupuncture treatments with improving his hamstring. He suffered the injury in Week 3 and hobbled through several subpar performances (including a no-tackle game against the Eagles) before bouncing back last Sunday.

"The important thing to me was I thought I played well (against the Redskins)," Taylor said. "I was active, I didn't shy away from anything and I kept going at it. I was very happy. No one has taken my heart away from me yet."

GIANTS NOTES

At 6-3, the Giants have equaled their win total for all last season . . . Phil Simms has a 2-5 career record at Veterans Stadium . . . The Giants have lost only one fumble in the last five games, while their opponents have lost six . . . Giants tight end Aaron Pierce (hamstring) is out for Sunday . . . Ex-Eagles cornerback Izel Jenkins wears No. 24 for the Giants. Talking about the Philadelphia fans, Jenkins said: "They're probably all on crutches after breaking their ankles jumping off the bandwagon."

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