Return of Miller Will Make Buckeyes Dynamic on Offense Once Again
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — What would have been a question mark became an exclamation point a little over a week ago when Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller announced that he would be returning for his senior season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Had Miller chosen to leave, the Buckeyes would have not only been without their coach-acclaimed best player, but the losses of running back Carlos Hyde, receiver Philly Brown and four offensive linemen would have been an envy-proof situation for any coach to deal with.
Instead, with Miller's return, the Buckeyes have a play-making foundation to build the rest of their offense upon, and given how much Urban Meyer has targeted the offense in recruiting since he's been at Ohio State, there are plenty of pieces to work with in 2014.
Starting with Miller, Ohio State will have the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year leading the way, and that's no small thing. Few players are more explosive with the football than Miller. This past season, he finished third in the nation with 10 rushes of 30 yards or more, and that was while missing nearly three entire games. It was also the same number he had a year ago, when he finished tied for fifth in the nation.
While Hyde's 1,521 yards will be difficult to replace, Miller's 3,054 career yards rushing will help control the swelling. There are also four extremely talented running backs looking to fight their way into the impact crater that Hyde has left.
Even if Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman can't find a 1,500-yard tailback, they'll be able to find a productive combination given the skill on hand. Rising sophomore Ezekiel Elliott might be the fastest running back the Buckeyes have had in well over a decade. Combine him with what the staff eventually wants to do with a bigger and stronger Dontre Wilson, and the potential for home runs is quite large.
The production at the receiver position will need to improve, which it should considering that at least 10 new receivers will be in the mix next season. Urban Meyer redshirted five receivers last season, and all of them – Corey Smith, Michael Thomas, Jeff Greene, James Clark and Jalin Marshall – have received their fair share of touting over the last year.
Those five receivers will be joined by the receivers of the 2014 recruiting class, which features a number of nationally-elite athletes. It won't be all new faces, of course, as starters Devin Smith and Evan Spencer also return.
The tight end situation next season could be one of the best in school history, as Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are as good as there is in the Big Ten. There is also the athletic redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh, who was a high school All-American.
Ohio State fans have been asking when the tight end would get involved in the offense, but they didn't have to ask it much this past year, because they saw it happen right in front of them. More of the same should be expected next season.
If you've made it this far, no doubt since the very beginning you've been asking, “Yeah, but what about the offensive line?”
It's a valid question, as losing four senior starters on the offensive line is a panic-inducing situation. Legally, you may not even be allowed to mention it in a crowded movie theater.
Keep in mind, however, that the Buckeyes return three linemen in Taylor Decker, Patrick Elflein and Jacoby Boren who played significant minutes this past season, and the coaching staff is comfortable with each of them.
Currently, it looks like the Buckeyes will only be trying to find two additional starters up front in the spring, which is a fairly normal situation for any college football team.
While not as deep as the receiver position, there are certainly names on the offensive line who can be expected to win one tackle job and one guard job. How well they'll play will certainly impact the rest of the offense, but to this point, offensive line coach Ed Warinner has deserved nothing but the benefit of every single doubt that might be out there.
The Buckeyes may not score as well next year as they did this past season, but it's difficult to see a situation where they don't score enough to be considered “high scoring”. There will be playmakers all over the field for Ohio State, and with a four-year starter at quarterback handling the football, he should be plenty able to find every last one of them.
There are still some question marks that need to be addressed, but Braxton Miller's return alone has certainly punctuated the possibilities moving forward into next season.
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