Sam Mills III faces the tough task of replacing Jim Tomsula in Washington
Mills’ work as a D-Line coach
In 2018, Mills worked under Brady Hoke for most of the season. But Hoke’s work with the defensive line simply didn’t cut it and he was fired in early December after less than one year with the team. Rivera elected to promote Mills and give him a chance to prove himself. And in 2019, Mills didn’t disappoint.
Mills had to navigate a transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense right off the bat along with a new starter joining the fold in Gerald McCoy. Mills managed the new scheme well and was able to get the most out of a player that had previously been disappointing.
In 38 games before the 2019 NFL season, 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler had been nothing more than a mediocre rotational player. He had two career sacks and just 45 tackles. But in the new scheme, Butler thrived. And that’s likely thanks at least, in part, to Mills.
Butler had a six-sack season and forced three fumbles as a part-time starter. He got more playing time in the wake of an injury to Short, and his play was part of the reason that the Panthers were still able to finish with the second-most sacks in the NFL last year (53, trailing only the Steelers). The other big reason was Mills’ coaching.
Speaking of which, Washington’s official site noted that Mills’ defensive line groups in Carolina were always good at rushing the passer and had a knack for being decent against the run as well.
"While serving as the club’s defensive line coach in 2019, Mills III also assisted head coach Ron Rivera with clock management, replay challenges and other situational football analysis. Since 2012, no group of defensive linemen have produced more sacks than Mills III’s group in Carolina, registering 368. In addition to getting to the quarterback, the defensive line has been integral in the Panthers ability to stop the run as their rush defense has ranked in the top six in the NFL in three of the past six season and overall ranks sixth with 104.2 rushing yards allowed since 2012."
Mills may have only a little experience as a solo defensive line coach. But amid a poor season in Carolina, what he showed was promising. That’s probably why Rivera wanted to bring the 15-year veteran with him to Washington. And that’s a good sign given Rivera’s track record of developing defensive assistants and preparing them for bigger roles.
It’s also worth noting that Mills does have one game of head coaching experience. That came at the 2019 East-West Shrine Game. It may be a college All-Star Game, but that’s still more head coaching experience with NFL-caliber players than most assistants have.