Carolina Panthers

Panthers fourth-round pick, Alabama DE/LB Christian Miller, fits future of defense

The Carolina Panthers’ fourth-round pick, selected at No. 115 on Saturday, can do it all — and he doesn’t even have to travel that far to do it.

Alabama defensive end/linebacker Christian Miller, a Columbia native whose father, Corey, is a former South Carolina Gamecock, will join the Panthers’ storied linebacker corps in 2019.

But that’s far from his only role.

Miller lined up just about everywhere in the front seven for Alabama during his senior season. For the Panthers, he’ll do the same as they move into a more multiple defense this fall, featuring many three-man fronts that bring potential for Miller to see the field more.

What can Carolina’s defense look like with Miller in the game? Just switch on his college tape.

“Turn on the game against Ole Miss and you can see him in a three-point stance get upfield, get to quarterback depth, then quickly turn the corner straight to the quarterback,” NBC draft analyst Josh Norris told the Observer last month, when projecting Miller as a possible Panthers target.

“Then against Oklahoma, out of a multiple front, he stands up outside of the left tackle and wins in the same way. Then another play he drops into coverage or crashes inside.”

Miller can do it all.

“They really do like my versatility,” said Miller, while on a conference call with reporters shortly after he was drafted. “I know they want to do a lot of different things on defense going forward, so that definitely was something they liked about me.”

Miller battled injuries at Alabama, including an arm injury that forced him to sit out 10 games in 2017, and a hamstring injury sustained while pressuring Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in the 2018 SEC Championship forced him to miss the national title game. Still, he was able to play in a feature role during his senior season, racking up 36 tackles and 8.5 sacks.

“For me personally, it was that all the hard work paid off,” he said. “To put it all together this past senior year and have a complete year, it meant the world to me.”

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But playing time wasn’t the most important thing to Miller.

“I was voted captain by my teammates, and that really was the icing on the cake,” Miller said. “That was something I have always dreamed of, especially at a place like Alabama ... This past season meant the world to me. I’m just thankful for everything I’ve been able to accomplish.

“But I’m just getting started. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, and I feel like my best football is ahead of me.”

The Panthers thought so, too, as they evaluated him prior to the draft.

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Alabama’s Christian Miller brings solid technique and footwork to the Carolina Panthers, but the fourth-round draft pick will need to add strength. Michael Conroy AP

Carolina stayed close to Miller throughout the entire process, he said. Linebackers coach Steve Russ worked him out at his pro day, and Miller spent time with the Panthers at the NFL scouting combine.

“They were always close to me,” he said. “I’m just really appreciative of them and excited to get to work with them...

“They’ve just been so positive the whole time, and so welcoming to me. I really just feel so comfortable around them. Great group of coaches.”

But most of all, Miller said he bonded with head coach Ron Rivera — and not just linebacker-to-linebacker.

“Not only does he appreciate the linebacker position, I think he just appreciates good people,” Miller said. “When I met with him, he was just a great person. We almost didn’t talk about football — we were too busy talking about life and everything else.

“I really respect Coach Rivera. I really like him a lot. He’s just a great person and a great coach, and the fact that he’s big on linebackers is just an added bonus.”

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Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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