Both Coach and Player Looking to Make Braxton Miller a Finished Product
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago at this time, as the Buckeyes began spring practice, much was made of the improvement that quarterback Braxton Miller had made over the offseason. Then, from that point to the beginning of the season, his coaches said he had improved even more.
The words "night and day" were used more than once when talking about the progress that Miller had made, and for much of the season, those results showed on the field.
Photo by Jim Davidson
For a while, Miller was near the top of the nation in completion percentage and passer efficiency. He was completing 70% of his passes and was protecting the football extremely well.
Then, for one reason or another, the bottom fell out a bit. In three of his final four regular season games, he completed less than 50% of his passes, and in two of them he was under 40%. The way Miller finished the season has left a lasting impression on how far he still needs to go to reach the ceiling that offensive coordinator Tom Herman has talked about.
That being said, Miller still finished 13th in the nation in passing efficiency (158.08), which also led the Big Ten by a wide margin. But seeing what he was capable of early on last season, and how far he dropped off at the end of the year, it's clear that there is still room to grow.
"As improved as he is in the mental part of playing quarterback he still can get a whole lot better," Herman explained.
"He can make that same leap this year and still have work to do.
"Just the constant study of the game, studying defenses, studying our plays.
"Now that we've done kind of the same thing two years in a row, I told him you don't want to memorize it like you're memorizing something to take a test tomorrow. You want to know it so that at any given point tomorrow or a week from now or a month from now I can say 'Show me where the sam goes in over three, now what about cover two,' and boom, just get on the board and go. I think he's getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down as he stays on that path."
The teaching process is always ongoing, which is why Miller has been able to improve so dramatically from the first day he arrived on campus to where he is now. Everybody knows that there is still work to be done, but the foundation that has been laid is a solid one. The key now is to add to that foundation.
"You can learn everyday, and there's a lot things that I've got to learn on the field and off the field," Miller admitted.
"On the football side you can learn from Coach Meyer, Coach Herman, the defensive coaches, you can learn from anybody everyday, so you can get better everyday. I don't know if you can learn too much. If you put in the effort and the time, you can get better each and everyday. I feel like I've got a lot of room to improve."
So much has been made of Miller's mechanics and footwork since Herman arrived, most specifically how behind Miller was entering the 2012 season. Miller and his coaches have worked tirelessly at that aspect of his game, and continue to do so. According to Herman, however, it's control of the mental aspect of the game that will shore up the physical part.
"There's still some work to be done there, but I think the emphasis might shift a little bit," Herman said of Miller's fundamentals.
"I think when you know what you're doing and you know what you're seeing and you know what everyone else around you is doing it's easy to play with great fundamentals because you're relaxed."
While Miller is always working on his fundamentals through reps and the like, as a senior he sees something else that he needs to continue working on as well.
"I'm just working on my leadership and learning the whole aspect of the game from the shoulders up," he said. "Just learning everything, making sure you know everything."
As a three-year starter entering his senior season, Miller is already pretty comfortable with what he is being asked to do. More work and repetition will only make him more comfortable, which is exactly what he and his coaches are shooting for.
That being said, this is still football, and having comfort as a quarterback is nice in theory, but once the ball is snapped, there is an entire defense trying to strangle that comfort into submission.
"If you've ever stood back there and tried to make a decision in 1.9 seconds and see the things he has to see and process that kind of information that fast, there's a tremendous learning curve to that," Herman said.
"I think fundamentally the more we keep attacking that side of it, the more consistent [he'll become], because he knows how to do all that. There's nothing I'm teaching him, it's the repetition and then the transition from drills to the game field."
Following minor surgery on his throwing shoulder recently, Miller will be limited throughout the spring, but the mental reps will still be a part of his preparation.
The hope is that this last bit of study will put the finishing touches on Miller, making him the quarterback that the Buckeyes need him to be.
And for the Buckeyes, Miller's "night and day" improvement from year to year might just rub off on his teammates, resulting in a "night and day" improvement from the way they finished their season a year ago.
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