ANNAPOLIS — Navy’s first day in full pads this month brought an unexpected surprise for safety Tra’ves Bush.
After a bungled snap, he heard something distinctly different than he had ever heard before on the Midshipmen’s practice field.
“Get the snap up,” quarterback Trey Miller bellowed. It was the first time, it turned out, that Bush had heard the junior yell in three years as teammates.
Miller’s voice — not to mention his words, his production, his mannerisms and nearly everything about how he goes about his business — will be vetted and parsed far more now as he enters Saturday’s opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, as the Mids’ starting quarterback.
As much as the position dictates a player endure more scrutiny than anyone else on the roster, Miller blends into his surroundings with ease. An emergency start at Notre Dame last year did nothing to alter things. Neither, it seems, will succeeding Kriss Proctor as the Mids’ full-time quarterback.
“I’m just the same old Trey I’ve been,” Miller said. “There’s no changes. Even if I won a lot of awards like in high school, I wouldn’t change.”
Navy doesn’t need Miller to reinvent himself. What it could use is settled play from a guy with seven career appearances, only two of which came with the outcome in doubt.
On many fronts in the more than eight months since conclusion of last year’s disappointing 5-7 season, Miller has demonstrated precisely the capacity for growth Navy needs to rebound from its first losing year since 2002.
He locked up his starting job in the spring without a serious threat. The unquestioned No. 1 navigated an offseason of workouts, then went through a camp that made coach Ken Niumatalolo sound like a broken record. Miller was improving, he still made mistakes and the Mids’ fine-tuned option offense needs perfection.
“He doesn’t have a Ricky Dobbs kind of arm, but he throws the ball well,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “He runs well. It’s just a matter of having that presence, but also when it comes to the offense, being able to go out and play within the system. Take what comes to him. And always play smart. If we play smart, we have a chance to win the games. If we make stupid mistakes, we’re going to struggle.”
Presence was Jasper’s watchword at the start of camp, and it is a mildly delicate matter for the Mids. Jasper prodded Miller throughout the spring to assert himself, the way many quarterbacks naturally do.
And it has come, only on Miller’s terms. On the field, he insists, he tries to ensure his expression remains the same. The poker face under center isn’t phony, merely a reflection of the reserved Marietta, Ga., product.
“It’s just a natural thing,” Miller said. “I don’t try to be anyone I’m not. I’m just myself at all times. I guess everybody just says I’m a laid-back guy.”
Still, he acknowledges some anxiety as the opener approaches. Camp occupied a long month, with thoughts of a second shot against Notre Dame swirling and a significant milestone in his time at Navy on the horizon.
Miller’s comportment is hardly an issue to senior slotback Bo Snelson, who said Miller commands respect in the huddle. Aside from the occasional raised voice, Miller’s done it his way.
“Since he got the starting role, absolutely nothing has changed about him,” Bush said. “He’s still the same person. He still carries himself the same, he still jokes around the same way, he’s still the same competitor, and he continues to work to get better.”
That remains the priority. Errors, however unwelcome, will happen. Miller just wants to avoid repeated miscues.
It’s vital not just for him but Navy as well. No other quarterback on the roster has played in a college game. Freshman Keenan Reynolds and sophomore John Hendrick competed for the spot behind Miller, who takes over a job where the last wire-to-wire starter was Lamar Owens in 2005.
“He’s asserted himself more,” Niumatalolo said of Miller. “Our team and our offensive guys see him walk with his shoulders up a little more, and he looks you in the eye and he’s more confident in his answers. That, I’ve been excited about.”
But for the most part, it’s been the same old Trey.
If he can help the Mids reach a bowl, continue their decade-long run against Army and perhaps even wrest the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from Air Force, that will suit Navy just fine.
“Trey’s still Trey,” Jasper said. “He talks some out there. I hear him out there in the huddle saying ‘Guys, let’s go.’ I don’t think he’s ever going to be a rah-rah guy, although I’m trying to get him to be more vocal. It is what it is, but if he goes out there and plays well, it really doesn’t matter.”