Buckeyes Pushing Braxton Miller to Reach His Limitless Potential
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tom Herman called him a sponge. Urban Meyer referred to him as the best athlete he has ever coached at the quarterback position.
The ceiling for Braxton Miller is clearly as high as he wants it to be. He finished fifth in voting for Heisman Trophy last season and yet it still feels like Ohio State’s junior quarterback has only scratched the surface of what he could become as both a football player and a signal caller.
“His quarterback development is behind a little bit. As a player, it’s not. He’s a good player,” Meyer said after practice last week.
“It’s just you wish he hadn’t played that first year. He wasn’t ready to play. He still won Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but that just tells you how talented he is.”
Meyer has made a number of references to the fact Miller wasn’t where he needed to be in order to step in and start for the Buckeyes under center during his freshman season in Columbus.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Maybe that explains why interim head coach Luke Fickell, now the team’s defensive coordinator, decided to try fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman at quarterback before handing the job over to Miller.
It was a rocky first go-around for the youngster out of Wayne High School outside of Dayton, but he still believes it prepared him for his first full season as the starting quarterback under Meyer and Herman last season.
“In some ways it was good,” he said of being forced into action as a rookie.
“Being a young guy, coming in, stepping in, taking the first snap as a freshman. (Having to handle) the pressure. Taking the snaps in front of all those fans. It’s big.”
In year two, Miller broke Ohio State’s school record for total offense. He passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,200 hundred as the Buckeyes experienced their second undefeated season in the last 11 years.
A lot of Miller’s success last season, however, was simply a result of his unique genetics and impressive athleticism. He is able to make plays other guys simply can’t because of his physical ability, but that will only take him so far.
“He has all the skills to be one of those guys in New York, but he’s not there yet,” Meyer said back in February on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I’d put this kid as talented as all of them, maybe more. The next step’s a big one. If he takes the next step, it could be a lot of fun for Columbus.”
The next step is the big one because it’s not going to be a matter of physical ability. Miller has shown he can do almost anything that’s possible within the white lines from a physical standpoint, but he has to take the next step mentally if the Buckeyes are going to run the table again this season.
“Against our rivals up north, all we had to do was change a protection and it’s a walk-in touchdown,” Meyer added.
“He doesn’t do it. Instead of blaming the kid, I’m blaming the coach and I'm blaming myself. We didn’t cover that enough with him.”
Time has been limited this offseason because of the 15 practices Ohio State missed out on with their postseason ban last year. That’s 15 less practices for Herman and Meyer to work with Miller on things like footwork, chaos mechanics and changing protections at the line of scrimmage.
Miller did a little bit of that on his own in December when he went out to San Diego to work with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. That was something the coaches were happy about, but most of the work will come back in Columbus with Ohio State’s second-year quarterbacks coach.
“I would say if he was at a 1 this time last year and a 4 at the end of the season, he’s at a 6 right now,” Herman said last week.
“He could be an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s just a matter of the process and the teaching progression has to be at a pace where he can feel good about where he’s at. And then take the next step, and get really good at whatever he’s working on at that point, and then take the next step and the next step.”
In theory, Ohio State should be even better on offense this season. They have four starters back on the offensive line and a starting tailback who ran for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
They are loaded with depth in the backfield behind Carlos Hyde and there should be plenty of weapons in the passing game for Miller this season. He has two good tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, along with some experience at receiver with Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.
If they freshmen turn out to be anything close to what Meyer hopes they can be, the Buckeyes might have the most explosive offense in the country this fall. In the end though, it all depends on the guy wearing No. 5.
“Do we all want him to be an 11 today? Yes, we do. And he would tell you that, too,” Herman said.
“Because we see it, we know that it’s there. But you have to be careful with how much you dump on a kid all at once or else you do more harm than good in terms of stunting that growth.”
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