FOXBORO - Von Miller has ruined many a football game for opposing offenses. The Patriots have first-hand experience with that. Just flashback to the AFC title game in the 2015-16 season. The All-Pro defensive end/linebacker tormented Tom Brady, sacking the quarterback 2 1/2 times while also recording a handful of hits on the beleaguered Brady in a 20-18 Denver victory. Miller did that going head-to-head with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon.
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Fast forward to this weekend. Miller must be salivating at the thought of not only teeing off on Brady but at the very real possibility he’ll be squaring off with backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Yes, the same Waddle who played exactly one snap a year ago will be thrown into the lion’s den against the ferocious Miller.
“He’s a great player, a great rusher,” said Waddle. “He’s one of those guys...He’s gonna jump the count if he can. He’s fast off the ball, he can bend that edge, he can bring a little power too. He’s a good, complete rusher and he’s someone we’ll have to take care of to do the things we want to do on offense.”
Said Bill Belichick: “Miller can do it all; he can play the run, he’s a great edge-setter, and he’s a great speed-rusher - good counter move, good speed to power rush. He’s seen double teams and things like that. He knows how to deal with them. He has a good inside spin and has the power to get away from those types of techniques. He’s a good pass rusher and he’s as good a player as there is in the league.”
The idea that Waddle could even put up a fair fight against Miller was far-fetched as recently as this summer when the 26-year old appeared to be a prime candidate to get chopped off the roster. Instead, not only has Waddle survived but he has slipped past Cam Fleming to earn substantial snaps this year: 130 to date. Waddle filled in capably for Cannon when the latter went down in the victory over the L.A. Chargers, fending off the explosive Melvin Ingram, himself an elite pass rusher in the Miller mold.
“I think it’s just more getting that opportunity to get out there," said Waddle when asked of his overall improvement. “I didn’t really get that opportunity to last year - whatever reason that was - whatever, it’s in the past, it’s over with. Now that I’m getting my opportunity, I want to make the most of those, show them I can perform and get the trust of the rest of my teammates and the coaches.”
Belichick has been high on Waddle dating back to August. At the time it surprised those of us who watched the tackle struggle in both camp practices and joint sessions with Jackonsville and Houston. Shows you what we know.
“Yeah, it started in the offseason,” said Belichick. “He had a really good offseason, good spring and I think he's improved his overall strength, his mobility. He's in good condition. You know, he kind of took a while – when we first got him, I think he was still dealing a little bit with the knee injury from Detroit. And, I don't want to say last year, but it's just over a period of time, between hard work, maybe it's some just physical improvement – I don't know, some combination of the two – but he looks and plays kind of like what we saw in Detroit before the injury.”
Waddle credited offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for constantly pushing he and the rest of the hogs up front to get after it daily, be it in the meeting room, weight room or on the practice field. Scar stresses opening lanes for the run game and “keeping Tommy clean” said Waddle. That’s a good way to put yourself in the good graces of not just the coaches but the man himself - Brady.
“LA [Waddle] works hard. I’m very confident in him as I am with all our linemen,” said Brady earlier this week.
Miller will do his best to ruin that Sunday in the Mile High City. We’ll see how Brady feels about Waddle and that o-line once Week 10 is in the books.