Johnny 'D': Miller's defenses a constant at Saks
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Sep 10, 2013 | 2364 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks coach Jonathan Miller huddles with his team during the Wildcats' victory over White Plains on Friday.
Saks coach Jonathan Miller huddles with his team during the Wildcats' victory over White Plains on Friday.
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SAKS — Saks players are openly confident about Coach Jonathan Miller’s defensive schemes. In fact, they may be more confident than the coach himself.

After the Wildcats have started the 2013 season with two lopsided victories, players aren’t shy to say the second-year coach can stop any team’s offense.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” senior linebacker Devontae Young said. “Coach Miller is such a great coach, and when I graduate I’m going to miss him. I remember when he first put me on scout team when I first time I came to varsity and he told m,e if I just keep working hard, then I’m going to be there.”

While Young, now a three-year starter at linebacker, has worked his way up, Miller has done the same. After joining the staff in 2002 and becoming the defensive coordinator in 2005, Miller was named the head coach before the 2012 season. However, Miller’s defenses have been consistent the entire time the Class of 2013 has been playing varsity football.

Since this year’s seniors were freshman in 2010, Saks has only allowed 21-plus points 11 times, while posting four shutouts over the same time period. Those defenses also allowed an average of 15.8 (2012), 15.1 (2011) and 18.0 (2010) points per game.

But there’s no secret to Saks’ success.

“I’ve gotten lucky, and the thing we’ve had here at Saks since I’ve gotten the defense is we have just found ways to use our speed,” Miller said. “We’ve had athletic teams, some more than others, and we’ve found ways to utilize our speed. We try to get as much on the field as we can.”

“Speed kills” takes on a new meaning when Saks hits the field, especially this year, when it held Wellborn’s wing-T to its lowest regular-season points total since Oct. 2011 in the season opener.

“Most teams like to pull guards and tackles, but with the D-line coming off the ball as fast as we do it kind of messes it up,” senior lineman Vincent Hilliard said. “The nose guard pushes back, the center goes back, messing up the guard pulling, and it’s a big mess. That’s a big part of what we do.”

Speed is also combined with experience for this year’s defense, which has eight returning starters from last year. Although Miller said it’s too early to know how good this year’s defense will be by the end of the season, he did say the unit is comparable to the 2011 defense, which he added was the best he’s had.

“They’re comparable, but there’s still a lot of the season to be played and you have to stay away from injuries and that type of thing,” the coach said. “But I think this year’s group compares with some of the better defenses that we’ve had over the years.”

Miller said he has a system to finding the best 11 to put on the field. It begins well before the season, and this year Miller said he had the chance to move several linebackers to the line, which has only created more speed.

But the speed is necessary, with the evolution of the spread offense, Miller said.

“You have to be ready for that type of thing, so there have become a lot of three-man fronts as opposed to in the 1990s, when there were four-man fronts,” he said. “It’s different like how White Plains and Wellborn like to run the football, but this week Susan Moore will want to spread things out.”

To prepare for the new type of threat, four-year starting safety Tre Smith said the team will do a lot of secondary drills and work on 7-on-7 drills throughout the week.

Even though Susan Moore (1-1) is coming into Friday’s game against Saks off a lopsided loss to Cleveland --- while Saks is scoring at will and held White Plains to 75 yards last week --- the Wildcats are still not looking ahead to the possibility of another Class 3A, Region 5 championship matchup with No. 2 Piedmont sitting at Week 8. Instead, all the focus is on Susan Moore.

“It’s tough to not look ahead, but the thing with us is that the meat of our schedule is ahead,” Miller said. “We’ve obviously played some pretty good teams to start with, but we have a few-week stretch where we have several tough games in a row. We’re trying to take it one day, one practice and one game at a time and focus on the opponent that week.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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