Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Knowing he wasn’t going to play, yet also understanding any knowledge and improvements he filed away would be critical to his Colorado football career, Chris Miller spent his entire redshirt season last year absorbing information from the sideline.
So when Miller went down with a hamstring injury last month, derailing what to that point had been a stellar preseason camp for the redshirt freshman cornerback, Miller knew the routine. If he was going to be forced to the sideline, he was going to make the best of the situation.
Expected to be a key figure in the Buffaloes’ defensive backfield this year, Miller’s official CU debut was delayed until his hamstring healed. After getting his first taste of action two weeks ago against New Hampshire, Miller is eager to make a bigger impact as the Buffs open their Pac-12 Conference schedule with a Friday night showdown at home against UCLA (7 p.m., FS-1).
“At first (in 2017) I was really pushing to play and it was kind of upsetting,” Miller said. “But then when I thought about it, it was really good for me, the redshirt. If I had to do it over again I’d redshirt. Back in high school I didn’t have a true corners coach, so I didn’t get to learn all the techniques and stuff. I took that time to learn. Better my technique, learn the defense more, learn my leverages and just work on my craft.
“Guarding Shay (Fields) and (Bryce) Bobo every practice, I think it really helped me a lot.”
A 6-foot cornerback out of Denton, Texas, Miller was on track to potentially start the season opener for the Buffs until the hamstring injury during the second week of August set him back. At first Miller didn’t believe the injury was serious, but after feeling better about a week later, Miller put himself through a weightlifting routine that ultimately set him back several more weeks.
In his absence, Dante Wigley and Delrick Abrams earned the starts at the two cornerback spots for each of the first three games, while Trey Udoffia (80 total snaps) filled the third cornerback spot. Miller returned to participate in 24 plays during the win against New Hampshire two weeks ago, recording two tackles, and cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose believes Miller has worked his way back to the high level of play he was displaying in early August prior to the hamstring injury.
“The thing I will say about him is that he has stayed focused,” Ambrose said. “He’s been in meetings. He’s been focused on getting his calls. And he’s been doing a great job helping the guys on the sidelines, telling them what he’s been seeing. Which is really good. Usually you don’t get that from a lot of freshmen, and I think he’s really grown up. He’s really paying attention and understanding what we’re doing and what other teams are doing.”
Despite missing two games and only partially participating in a third, Miller reports he is 100 percent again and ready to contribute as the Buffs begin their quest to win a second Pac-12 Conference South Division championship in three seasons. Ambrose said having four healthy corners will allow more flexibility in rotations so the players can potentially remain fresh deep into the season. And in Miller, the Buffs’ secondary essentially is adding a player who ranks among the fastest and most athletic defensive backs on CU’s roster.
“It felt great to finally play. I was hoping for more action, but it felt great,” Miller said. “We’re all really excited for Pac-12 play. Everybody still wants to show what they can do on the team. It’s just another opportunity for us to prove ourselves. The last (nonconference) games now don’t mean anything to us. We just want to go 1-0 every week.”