Scott Fowler

Fly like an eagle: Steve Miller tries to make Panthers as undrafted rookie

Steve Miller (right) battles with Tony Hills during a drill at the Carolina Panthers’ training camp.
Steve Miller (right) battles with Tony Hills during a drill at the Carolina Panthers’ training camp. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

His name is Steve Miller –and no, I don't mean the musician.

This one plays defensive end for the Carolina Panthers – an obscure and undrafted rookie agent, the type of player that a game like Saturday night's home exhibition vs. the Miami Dolphins can make the difference between winning a job and losing one.

If you're over 40, you probably have heard of the Steve Miller Band or at least listened to one of their hits that still play on classic rock radio: Fly Like An Eagle. The Joker. Take the Money and Run.

If you're under 40, like the Steve Miller playing for the Panthers, you had no clue about the Steve Miller Band for many years.

"At first, when I was being recruited in high school, I was like, 'Man, they keep comparing me to this band!'" Miller said. Eventually, people started compiling football highlight tapes of Miller with "The Joker" as background music.

The younger Steve Miller took it all in stride. He's kind of used to being around famous names. After all, he grew up in Canton, Ohio, playing his high school games for Canton McKinley at the same stadium where the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition is played every year.

"I used to work at the hall of fame game during that weekend sometimes," Miller said, "setting up the chairs and stuff."

Miller went from there to Ohio State, where he didn't start until his senior season in 2014. But what a senior season it was. The Buckeyes won the national championship, and Miller had a huge contribution with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown against Alabama quarterback Blake Sims in the national semifinal.

That was one of Miller's few big plays of the year, though, and it wasn't enough to get him drafted. The Panthers picked him up as a rookie free agent in early May.

In his first exhibition Aug. 14, Miller played 19 snaps and sacked the quarterback on one of them in Carolina’s 25-24 win over Buffalo. Panthers' announcer Mick Mixon couldn't resist after Miller’s sack, noting that Miller had been "flying like an eagle" on his way to the tackle.

Said Miller of his performance: " It felt pretty good. I'd say I did all right. I thought it was going to be a little rough at first, but it really wasn't that bad."

At 260 pounds, Miller doesn't have great bulk for a defensive end. He said he is working on "everything" and that his strength is that he goes "100 miles per hour" on every play. But to make this team – or at least make its practice squad – he will need to make several more splashy plays like that sack.

The first NFL cut looms on Sept. 1, when teams have to reduce their rosters to 75 players. Yet I can guarantee you Steve Miller will be playing two days later in North Carolina on Sept. 3, the night of the Panthers' last exhibition.

How can I do that?

Well, space cowboy, the Steve Miller Band has a concert in Cherokee, N.C., at the Harrah's Cherokee resort on Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.

The Panthers, meanwhile, play their final exhibition the exact same night at 7:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh. Shortly after that, they will slice their roster to 53 players.

This Steve Miller is a long shot, for sure.

But who would have thought the other Steve Miller, at age 71, would still be touring in 2015 and opening many big shows for Journey? He is, though.

And who knows? Maybe this Steve Miller can make the Panthers, claiming the name for his own. A big game against Miami would be a great start.

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