Receivers Noticing Braxton’s Improvement
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — The first time Braxton Miller took meaningful snaps at Ohio State, well, he wasn’t very good.
Braxton Miller vs. Miami of Florida
Photo by Jim Davidson
He was downright dreadful, actually, during Ohio State’s loss at Miami (Fla.) last year. Miller could barely hold on to the football –let alone throw a pass in the right direction – after being thrust into the lineup in the second half after Luke Fickell and the coaches decided to abandon the Joe Bauserman experiment.
Miller wasn’t ready to handle the pressure. How could he have been? He was only a freshman, thrust into a volatile situation in Columbus, where he was suddenly being asked to save the team – and maybe the program – from hitting rock bottom after the scandalous exits of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor.
The 2011 Buckeyes were supposed to be Pryor’s team. Miller was supposed to be learning from a senior with four years experience under his belt. Remember what Pryor looked like as a freshman?
He was obviously a physical freak, and often got by on his athleticism alone, but the Buckeyes were a BCS team that year largely because of the guys around Pryor; and also because of Tressel. He was able to squeeze just enough talent out of that team to get them to the Fiesta Bowl.
That certainly wasn’t Miller’s situation a year ago, but an offseason of working with Urban Meyer, Tom Herman and Mickey Marotti has already paid big dividends for the sophomore out of Huber Heights.
Photo by Dan Harker
“Braxton improved everything,” said wideout Corey ‘Philly’ Brown.
“He’s a hard worker. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. Throwing, he’s always trying to throw, always trying to lift, always trying to run. He improved his overall game a ton this offseason.”
Brown, a returning starter from the 2011 team that went 6-7 a year ago, was one of the players who spent a lot of time with Miller over the summer. Another guy who was constantly at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center (WHAC) with Ohio State’s quarterback was Evan Spencer.
“This offseason, we worked really hard,” said Spencer, a second-year wideout from Illinois who is projected as a starter for the Buckeyes in 2012.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“We were always doing something. Always. When we were tired from a workout, we went in and watched film and dissected some film. If we had a day off, we’d come in here and talk through some routes. The offseason was really good for all of us.”
It was just as important for Spencer, Brown and the rest of the wide receivers as it was for Miller, but the head football coach put it on his two quarterbacks to lead this team during the summer so they could look like a functioning offense by the start of fall camp.
“One of the challenges I had for Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton was to throw the ball a little bit, and they have,” Meyer said this week.
“Not near where we need to be throwing the ball, but much different than what you saw in the spring – much different. I saw a team that went out and worked.”
It’s not often that players can progress that much over the summer months, especially when they aren’t getting hands on teaching from the coordinators and position coaches, but this was no ordinary offseason.
The offense was hungry to get better after what happened last season, when Brown and Jake Stoneburner tied for the team-lead with 14 catches – for the entire year. A big part of that was the absence of senior leaders like Boom Herron and DeVier Posey for much of the season.
The Buckeyes didn’t throw the ball much all year, but they let Miller air it out against Michigan in the season-finale. He connected with Brown on a long touchdown and hooked up with Posey a number of times.
It should have been a lot more.
Miller easily left a pair of touchdown on the field when he overthrew a wide-open Posey streaking towards the end zone. One of those came in the final minutes of the game, but the receivers are seeing a different ball coming their way this fall.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Braxton has improved a lot, passing wise,” said Verlon Reed, a redshirt sophomore who started a handful of games last season before suffering a torn ACL against Michigan State.
“I can tell a difference in how calm he is, how relaxed he is and how tight his spiral is compared to last year. Last year they just let him run around and make plays. This year I can tell he’s been studying a lot more. He knows the offense and he’s improved a lot this offseason.”
Learning the offense was going to be half the battle. He hadn’t completely figured out the old one when Meyer and Herman came in with a wood chipper and put the old playbook out to pasture.
They implemented a brand new playbook in the spring, and at first it looked like hieroglyphics to the players who were expected to learn it.
“I think it’s just a maturity level of going from being a true freshman to a sophomore,” Meyer said this fall.
“Great is probably not a strong enough word to describe him in terms of absorbing, wanting to be a leader and wanting to do things the right way. I’ve been very impressed.”
Now that Miller has a much better handle on the offense this fall, he is starting to show a little glimpse of what he might be capable of under Meyer’s new system in Columbus.
“Braxton in this offense, there’s no ceiling,” Spencer said emphatically.
“It’s ridiculous. Braxton’s so athletic, he could fit in almost any offense, but this offense is really designed for him. He can take off and run or sit in the pocket; he can also roll out, so it’s perfect for him.”
The next time he takes a snap for the Buckeyes, things should look a lot different.
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