Eight-year NFL veteran Roy Miller was blindsided when he was released by the Jaguars in March.
The starting nose tackle had served as a leader in the locker room and a run-stopping force for the franchise for four seasons.
Miller was held to just six games last season due to a Achilles tear, but the veteran figured he would retain his role when fully-recovered. Instead, he got the phone call that most NFL players dread.
"I talked to [general manager Dave Caldwell] a couple of weeks before that and everything was cool," Miller said in a phone conversation with First Coast News. "[We] talked the year before about extending my contract and we said we'd talk after this season. Yeah, I was shocked."
Miller was part of a large veteran exodus on defense this offseason. Sen'Derrick Marks, Tyson Alualu, Jared Odrick, Davon House and Dan Skuta were also forced to look for work elsewhere.
The departures wiped out a lot of established leadership in the Jaguars' locker room. Miller believes the Jaguars will need to find a few players to fill that void.
"We were the heart of the team, I don't know how else to say it," Miller said. "A lot of leadership right there just erased. There were times when I was on a team and I'd look around and just wonder 'who was going to take that role?' Teams come and go, people step into that role and fill that gap. I'm sure Calais [Campbell] is going to do that, but I just didn't so many - it was an overhaul."
Miller has since recovered from the injury that he suffered in Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders. The veteran felt he was in a very good place before he went down.
Ironically, Miller had anxiously awaited the Raiders game. He wanted to prove himself against one of the best interior offensive line groups in the league.
"I thought I was having a really good game against the best center and guard combination in the NFL," Miller said. "I really had that [game] circled. That game, the way it was going, I was feeling really good. I think guys go through a game or two where they realize who they are, they're reminded of who they are every year, and that game was one for me."
The current free agent has received interest from teams since being cleared to practice. The last two years of film, especially his 2015 work, offer proof that Miller is among the best remaining players on the active market.
After playing the last four years under Gus Bradley, Miller is open to being used in different schemes. He has been a 4-3 nose tackle his entire career, but he isn't opposed to playing in a 3-4 front.
He also isn't against reuniting with Bradley in Los Angeles.
"I'd love to stay in that defense, just because I know it so well," Miller said. "At the same time, there's a lot of defenses out there that let you get upfield and I'd love to do that too. I'd love to play for [Bradley], but he's got a great tackle there in Brandon Mebane, one of the guys I really respect in the league, so that would be a pretty big competition, but I don't see that truly happening. But if it did, I'd welcome it."
Teams have already suffered losses at defensive tackle this offseason. With the launch of training camp, more squads are inevitably doomed to undergo injury woes along their defensive lines.
Miller will eventually have an opportunity to make a roster and potentially earn significant playing time.
"There's a few teams that have shown some interest here and there," Miller said. "I believe my agent has a few - there's a couple of trips I have to take - this month. It was always [the plan] to kind of wait until mid-July, so I can go out there with enough time to heal and time to get back in shape and then go out there and compete."
As a nose tackle, Miller's importance to a defense isn't highlighted in the weekly box score. Instead, his ability to take on double teams and stop the run allows for his teammates to produce the flashier numbers.
Leaving the Jaguars could potentially open up things up for Miller.
"I want to say seven out of my eight years I've been in [a similar 4-3] defense," Miller said. "I love the defense but you really, you almost kind of give yourself up in the game. As a player, you're not going to make many plays. You're pretty much just holding offensive linemen up. I'm interested to see what's out there. I've always been a penetrating nose tackle, I've been able to be in a 3-4. I think I can do all as far as the interior."
Miller looks back at his time in Jacksonville with mixed feelings.
The team won just 15 games during Miller's time with the Jaguars, but he enjoyed the coaching staff and his teammates.
However, the way it all ended left a bad taste in his mouth.
"You can sit there and be pissed or you can find something to do," Miller said. "Something that's productive that's going to make you a better player. I've just been working hard."
Like the Jaguars, Miller will move on to something new.
He is very happy for his former pupil, Abry Jones, who will now start at his old nose tackle position. Miller said Jones' success reassured the veteran about his work as a mentor in Jacksonville.
Miller's leadership has been his calling card. He will now look to bring that trait and his talent to another NFL locker room.
"There's not too many guys that are better than me in the NFL at playing the nose tackle position," Miller said. "Just there's no doubt about it, so I'm going to play until I can't play at the same level and then I'll hang it up if that's the case."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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