Ohio State’s Quarterback Ready to Take Next Step
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — During the early morning hours of the offseason, before class and still early enough to avoid being spotted by a city awakening from its slumber, Braxton Miller made his way to Ohio State’s football facility.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Miller knew what awaited him at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center – another tough workout with strength czar Mickey Marotti followed by an hour of throwing with Corey Brown, Devin Smith and some of the other wide receivers.
It had become a routine for Miller during the long, cold days of January. They felt even longer for Urban Meyer, head coach of the Buckeyes, and his offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Because of the NCAA’s postseason ban, Ohio State lost 15 valuable practices in the month of December.
That meant 15 fewer days for Herman to work closely with Miller on the mechanics that created a gap between what Miller is now and what he could become; between finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and the Buckeye quarterback being the best college football player on the planet.
“When they’re on their own, we have the best strength staff in America, so they have to get stronger and become better football players,” Herman said of the time off.
“Mickey does a great job. He doesn’t train weightlifters, he trains football players.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
But it’s Herman’s job to train quarterbacks. He was hired by Meyer to do just that when the two-time BCS national champion took over the Ohio State football program back in last January.
Herman’s first assignment – by far his most important one – was to take the raw football talent stuffed inside a scarlet No. 5 jersey and turn it into a Heisman Trophy-level, championship-caliber quarterback.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re pleased with the path and the trajectory we’re on,” Herman said at the end of spring ball in year two at Ohio State.
“It takes a thousand reps of doing something right to take over as a habit. A lot of this is brand new. A lot of the mental stuff is brand new. There was no base. There were no bad habits, but there were no good habits either. There was nothing. Those two things combined are what makes the process trudge along a little bit.”
Herman believes Miller can actually be better than everyone thinks. Both Herman and Meyer have admitted Miller probably wasn’t ready to play as a freshman two years ago, but interim head coach Luke Fickell didn’t have many other options at the time.
He was trying to win football games in the wake of a scandal that cost legendary head coach Jim Tressel his job in Columbus, and Braxton Miller’s development as a quarterback was lost somewhere in the shuffle.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“If Braxton was a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 when we got here, he finished (last) season around a four,” Herman said of the junior out of Huber Heights, Ohio.
“By the end of spring ball he was around a six, but the cool thing with him is he could be about a 12.”
Athletically, Miller might already be one of the top 2-3 players to wear an Ohio State uniform since Meyer was a graduate assistant in Columbus 25 years ago. The Buckeyes have had some incredible talent during that stretch, including a few uniquely gifted quarterbacks, but Miller is only starting to scratch the surface of what he could become over the next two years.
“He's probably the best athlete I've ever coached at that position, which is a great thing but also a hindrance,” Meyer told ESPN.
“He gets away with things lesser athletes don't, and it's gotten him out of so much trouble. That's great, and I don't want to lose that. We just have to coach him through it.”
Whenever Miller is able to stand in the pocket and deliver a pass in rhythm, he has shown a strong ability to deliver the ball on target with velocity. Whenever things break down, Miller had a tendency to panic last season.
He either took off an ran or threw up an off-balance pass that flailed helplessly to the turf instead of finding one of his receivers down the field.
“There’s times when you still see him – and they’re less today than they’ve ever been – what is he doing? There was nothing, what was he freaking out for back there,” Herman said.
“You don’t ever want to see him freak out and get nervous and get happy feet for no reason. When something breaks down or the mental clock starts to tick and he takes off, that’s great. There’s a reason – something broke down, something happened to make you do that, but don’t let it be your own fault that you got nervous and got happy feet and decided to start running around.”
That was part of the reason Miller decided to spend his Christmas break out in California working with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. Herman and the OSU coaches were happy to see their team leader take the initiative instead of sitting on his couch playing X-Box, but it wasn’t like came back a completely different player than he was at the end of last season.
“When he came back, was he fundamentally a little bit better? Yeah, probably,” Herman said.
“As he would have been had he gone out and done anything for a week straight of just football and drills.”
Miller and Whitfield worked a lot on chaos mechanics, but most of the work to rebuild Braxton Miller has been done with Herman, who coached the quarterbacks at Rice and Iowa State before taking the job in Columbus.
“It was all his feet; a little bit of body lean up top,” Herman said of his star quarterback.
“There were times towards the end of spring he was missing high on some throws and we had him tuck his left shoulder down a little bit more. That seemed to help a little bit, but 95 percent of it was his footwork.”
At the insistence of his head coach, Herman scoured the country for new drills to use with Miller in order to help the youngster improve his footwork and fundamentals this season.
It’s not going to happen over night, but Herman feels a lot better now than he did back in January.
“I think we made tremendous strides,” he said at the end of spring ball.
“We just have to keep plugging away and realize it’s a process.
“Do we want to wake up over night and do a thousand drills today, watch a thousand hours of a film and wake tomorrow as a 10 out of 10? Yeah, we do, but that’s not realistic. It’s a process. We’re trying to accelerate that process as best we can.”
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