Kansas State junior receiver Torell Miller doesn’t know what it feels like to catch a touchdown pass, but he has experienced the thrill of scoring many times this season.
As the No. 4 Wildcats’ best perimeter blocker, he has the led the way on several Collin Klein and John Hubert touchdown runs. He regularly sees the field and sometimes lines up as the lone receiver on the far side of a formation, isolating himself against a cornerback.
That spot is normally reserved for a team’s top route-runner. With one man to beat, coaches like the odds of their best receiver getting open and catching a long pass. But that is not Miller’s main purpose.
K-State coach Bill Snyder usually lines him up wide as an extension of the offensive line, an additional blocker who can help keep a long run going on the outside.
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“I don’t know if people see him blocking on the edge, but he always kills his guy out there,” senior receiver Chris Harper said of Miller. “He’s a big, strong, physical player and he knows how to use his hands. He’s such a good blocker.”
Miller’s best game came against Kansas two weeks ago. He played a pivotal role on two of Hubert’s touchdown runs. On one, the Wildcats sent the majority of their blockers left, drawing KU defenders to that side of the field. But when Klein handed off to Hubert, he sprinted around the right side, leaving him and Miller with one man to beat. Miller shoved his defender away from the play and Hubert sauntered into the end zone.
“I love blocking,” Miller said. “The reason why I love it is because I know if it wasn’t for my last block, he wouldn’t have scored. I take pride in that, because I helped and contributed to that touchdown. It’s like the offensive line when someone else scores a touchdown. They feel good, and so do I.”
All K-State receivers are asked to think that way. Behind a dual-threat quarterback, the Wildcats use a balanced offense and rarely call plays in which running isn’t a possibility.
Snyder likes speedy receivers who can make big plays downfield, too, but he won’t play them if that’s their only skill. They have to be full-time football players, willing to block in any situation.
“All of us go out there and block,” Harper said. “If they see that you don’t you will get pulled out. I have been pulled out of games for not blocking before. It happens.”
That was a difficult lesson for Harper when he first arrived at K-State. The former Northwest standout started his college career as a quarterback in an up-tempo offense at Oregon. He was never taught how to initiate contact.
But now that he has learned how to block, he is always on the field as K-State’s top receiver.
Miller faced an easier transition. He started out as a defensive back, and made the switch to receiver after his freshman season and a redshirt year.
“That’s something that helped him block,” Harper said. “He knows how to hit. He played defense first, so he has an aggressive mentally. A lot of us came here passive on offense. You’re not out there trying to smack people. You are trying to avoid them and run around them and get open.”
For Miller, the challenge is now to become more of a threat downfield. He is influential as a blocker, but Snyder worries that his presence might send “a flag” to defenses if he never catches the ball when he lines up wide. K-State doesn’t throw to Miller often – he has made five career catches, including one this season — but Klein might start targeting him more as early as Saturday when the Wildcats face No. 17 West Virginia.
If the game turns into a shootout, and K-State has to throw, Miller will need to get open. He is the team’s fifth-most reliable possession receiver, and is always involved when the Wildcats use an empty backfield. That’s something he said he has been working on this week.
He already knows how to do the dirty work that comes with being a receiver in K-State’s offense. Now he gets to learn the fun part. If it’s more exciting than making the lead block on a touchdown run, he’s ready.
“I’m still trying to improve on my catching,” Miller said. “It’s all about improvement with me, but I focus on everything. I don’t want to be one of those wide receivers that just go up and catch the ball and run routes. I want to be able to block. I want my teammates and coaches to trust me that I am going to protect everything on the edge when the running back or quarterback is running the ball. I want to be a blocking wide receiver.”