Defensive end Shareef Miller is coming off a season that saw him lead Penn State in sacks and tackles for loss, but the better news for Miller and the Nittany Lions is that he is still improving.
The 6-foot-5, 256-pound redshirt junior from Philadelphia’s George Washington High School is part of one of the deepest and most talented positions on the team, a group he said “should be in the discussion for tops in the country.”
As for his own contributions, Miller can speak of experience — he started 12 of Penn State’s 13 games last season — and his ability as a ferocious pass rusher. He led the Lions with five sacks last season and would like to double that total in 2018, if not take a run at Carl Nassib’s school record of 15 ½ set in 2015.
“I want to get sacks,” Miller said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “My goal for myself, I want to have over 10 sacks. I really want to break that record that Carl Nassib has. The sacks are something to aim for, but I just want to win games.”
Miller feels he has shown progress during spring practice, which ends Saturday with Penn State’s annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.
“I am stronger from last year,” he said. “I’m more experienced and that’s really helped me. The game really slowed down for me now. I’m able to read plays before they happen. I did a real good job in the spring just anticipating plays and stuff like that. That was something I wanted to work on but that was something I got down.”
Working on technique: Miller also worked on his technique with the pass rush, something he’s developed with the help of former Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes, a one-time Northeast High star whom he has known since his high school days.
Miller, who said he speaks with Barnes often, trained with Barnes during the winter when he worked on improving his hand position trying to beat an offensive lineman and get to the quarterback.
“He wanted my eyes to coordinate with my hands,” Miller said. “That was something I noticed watching film. My eyes and my hands were not at the same level so that’s why my hands weren’t on target. He had drills for me that when I rush, look at my target and be accurate in delivering my hands.
“So I felt really good [in spring ball] but I’ve still got improvement to make. That’s something I really want to work on because I think that’s going to take my game to the next level.”
Toney also improving: Miller’s teammate, Shaka Toney, an Imhotep Charter graduate, also works with Barnes. Miller said Toney has gotten stronger and is working better with his hands while maintaining his pass rushing speed off the edge.
Miller is enthusiastic about Toney and his other teammates at defensive end, a group that includes redshirt juniors Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley) plus sophomores Yetur Gross-Matos and Shane Simmons.
“We’ve got so many guys that can do different things that they’re really good at,” he said. “Yetur can do a lot of great things, You’ve got Shaka. You’ve got Shane Simmons, who brings speed, power, finesse. You’ve got Buck [Buchholz]. He’s got power, he’s fast and he’s good with his hands.
“So we’re going to be real good this year at the defensive end. That’s our strongest position on the team.”