Miller Center of New ‘O’
COLUMBUS, Ohio – In order to protect an invaluable commodity – his starting quarterback – Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has not permitted Braxton Miller to run the ball during practices.
The very last thing any coach wants is to get the fulcrum of his entire, new-wave offensive approach injured by some walk-on safety – especially a teammate.
Miller made it clear at practice on Monday night that he’s not pleased by Meyer’s hand-holding.
“He ran a couple of plays yesterday where they were actually designed runs and I blew the whistle before he got to the line of scrimmage,” Meyer said. “He kept looking at me like, ‘What? Are you nuts?'”
The wraps will come off officially on Saturday when the 18th-ranked Buckeyes unveil a new era and (Meyer hopes) a new Miller against Miami (Ohio) in the season opener.
“I’m just a little bit older, more mature, more of a leader. It’s a different type of offense, so it’s going to be a whole lot different things happening,” Miller said, a smile creasing his face at the very mention of the new offense.
Meyer used a one-year hiatus from coaching in 2011 to work as an ESPN college football analyst. He used to sneak peeks at the then-freshman who would in time be the signal-caller for his fast-paced spread attack. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with what he saw.
“When we first got him there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency,” Meyer said. “With the no-huddle, up-tempo offense the quarterback has to be urgent. I think he’s becoming a pro with what he does. And he’s a quarterback of an offense that’s counting on him every play.”
The soft-spoken Miller, almost shy in the huddle a year ago, has taken on more of a leadership role as a sophomore. All of his teammates have noticed.
“Braxton’s getting more vocal. That was basically his main thing last year,” said wideout Corey Brown. “He’s a quiet person in general, but on the field this year he’s more vocal, getting people ready. He’s turning into a leader right in front of everybody’s eyes.”
Center Corey Linsley used to wonder if it wasn’t mandatory for a quarterback to be a take-charge, Alpha-dog personality.
“I’ve got to believe that’s one of the stipulations of being a quarterback,” he said. “I really think Braxton has done a good job of doing that. Since the spring he’s developed a lot.”
A year ago, Miller, a highly touted recruit out of Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne High School, was thrust into the starting role when three-year starter Terrelle Pryor bolted in the midst of an NCAA investigation and Joe Bauserman faltered as a passer.
Miller ended up seeing most of the snaps from the third game on, putting up decent numbers. He hit on 85 of 157 passes (54 percent) for 13 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. But he completed more than eight passes in only two games (the last two, both losses) and had seven straight games where he didn’t throw for even 100 yards.
It wasn’t all his fault, of course. The offensive line did its part in the miserable 6-7 season by allowing 54 sacks – the defense mustered exactly half that many. The receivers time and time again dropped passes in the open field.
Miller led the Buckeyes in rushing with 715 yards for seven touchdowns. But opponents did not have to shut down Ohio State’s mediocre passing attack, which ranked 115th of the 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
So when Meyer was hired in November to pick up the pieces of the broken program, one of his major projects was turning Miller around.
“Braxton has come a million miles,” Meyer said. “Our goal is to make him not an athlete playing quarterback but a quarterback that’s very athletic.”
Meyer also has said that Miller is the most dynamic athlete he’s ever coached. That’s saying something, considering that Meyer won two national championships at Florida with the likes of Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow.
Miller concedes that because of his inexperience a year ago, he was almost in a daze. Things have changed dramatically in Year 2.
“I just feel like myself,” he said. “I don’t have too much on my back or anything like that, so that makes everything easy.”
Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Tom Herman is impressed with how Miller has improved.
“His problems all stemmed from his footwork and he did a really good job over the (summer) of trying to break some bad habits. Those still show up every now and again, but he’s a lot more confident,” Herman said. “You can see a little bounce in his step. He’s certainly got a long ways to go, but you can tell he’s studied in the offseason and he’s worked with his wideouts and that’s paid dividends.”
Meyer says Miller has been a “caged tiger” with the constraints he’s been under in camp, although it’s unlikely that he will run more than a handful of plays. The staff still wants to protect him over the next 13 weeks, just as they did during August.
Miller and his head coach both know the Buckeyes and their quarterback are a work in progress.
“(Braxton) feels good,” Meyer said after a recent practice. “He made the comment to me that he knows what he’s doing. Well, he doesn’t know yet. There’s still a lot more to go. I winked at him and said, ‘Yeah, right, pal.'”