One of the fundamental questions posed to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller over and again this week at Big Ten Media Days was how he can improve from last season, when he led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record.His repeated answer: fundamentals.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I look back at myself (passing the ball) and I'm like ‘Dang, I had a lot of fundamental problems,’ ” Miller said. “It's not my arm, it was my fundamentals. You've got to have your legs in the same place as your arm. If not, the ball is going to flutter or go the opposite way that you want. Things like that don't happen if your fundamentals are right.”
Miller specifically identified his footwork as an area he has been working to clean up during the off-season.
But just how big of a leap can Miller be expected to make?
In his first two seasons at Ohio State, Miller improved his completion percentage from 54.1 his freshman season to 58.3 in 2012. His passer rating rose from 138.4 to 140.5.
In his first full year as the Buckeyes' starter, he was forced to juggle the task of learning coach Urban Meyer’s new offense. It's only logical to expect, with a year under his belt, Miller’s improvement this off-season will be greater than it was between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Terrelle Pryor, the last Ohio State quarterback to start as a freshman, saw huge spikes in his numbers when comparing his sophomore season to his junior-year output.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Pryor’s completion percentage rose from 56.6 as a sophomore to 65 as a junior. His passer rating went from 128.9 to 157.9 and his touchdowns ballooned from 18 in 2009 to 27 in 2010.
The only three-year starting quarterback under Meyer in his time at Florida was Tim Tebow.
Tebow’s junior-year numbers actually declined from his sophomore season, albeit ever so slightly.
His completion percentage dipped to 64.4 from 66.9 and his passer rating from 172.5 to 172.4. He went from 32 touchdowns in his Heisman-winning year of 2007 to 30 his junior season.
For Miller to take the next step this season, Meyer said his quarterback’s ability to lead will be just as crucial as improving his technique.
“I'm counting on our quarterback to become that great leader,” Meyer said. “I think he was pretty good. I think he was okay last year by the time the season started winding down.”
When asked if he was ready to become that great leader, Miller answered with an unequivocal “Of course.”
“They always look to the quarterback to lead the pack,” Miller said. “That’s what I’m here to do. I learn from coach Meyer every day.”
His teammates have noticed.
“His biggest jump has been in leadership and being the guy that when stuff starts going bad, people look at him,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said of Miller.
“He’s been more vocal. He’s out in front more and he’s embracing being seen as a leader. He’s going out and taking charge and letting guys know his opinion.”
Not far behind questions about Miller’s technique were those regarding the Heisman trophy.
“I hear it every now and then, but I don't focus on it,” Miller said of the Heisman speculation. “I just focus on the team and how we can get better each and every day.”
After finishing fifth in Heisman voting last season, just how much would Miller have to improve to be a legitimate contender in 2013?
Since Troy Smith won Ohio State’s last Heisman in 2006, five other quarterbacks have won the award.
The average stat line of those six quarterbacks during their Heisman-winning season looks like this: 3,567 yards passing and a 67.7 completion percentage along with 48 total touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 173.6.
Last season, Miller threw for 2039 yards, had 28 total touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 140.5.
Working in Miller’s favor in 2013 will be a set of offensive weapons that he fondly described as “The best I’ve ever had.”
“With the new recruits and the guys from last year, there’s gonna be a lot of big plays,” Miller said with a grin.