Lauren Hallow / Lantern photographer
“They’ve got a hot-shot guy in here from Dayton. No. 5 is all I know. Braxton is his name. He’s pretty darn good.”
That’s what NFL analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said about Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller after spending Wednesday and Thursday watching the team practice. Gruden was the keynote speaker at Friday’s coaches clinic.
The skills that earned Gruden’s lofty praise were on full display Saturday during OSU’s annual Spring Game.
Miller completed seven of 12 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, and also led the offense on a 14-play, 92-yard touchdown drive.
Coach Jim Tressel took notice.
“I thought Braxton probably played a little bit more relaxed and had a little bit more fun than he has had,” Tressel said.
Miller, who enrolled at OSU for Winter Quarter to get acclimated to the offense, has been thrust into a quarterback competition after incumbent starter, senior quarterback Terrelle Pryor, was suspended for the first five games of next season.
Since enrolling, Miller has spent much of his time just trying to learn the offense. Senior linebacker Andrew Sweat, who enrolled early when he was a freshman, said Miller has done well so far.
“I came in early as a freshman, and it’s overwhelming,” Sweat said. “I think Braxton does a great job of being mature and learning the plays. I think he’ll be a good player.”
On Saturday, Miller showed the dual-threat capabilities that made him such a highly prized recruit coming out of high school by routinely avoiding the pass rush and rushing for 19 yards on five carries. Senior running back Dan Herron said Miller’s elusiveness adds another dimension to the offense.
“When you got a guy back there like Braxton who can throw it or run it, it gives you a lot of options,” Herron said.
Joe Bauserman, Taylor Graham and Kenny Guiton are also in the mix to replace Pryor and all have more experience with the offense than Miller. But Tressel said Miller will have as much opportunity as anyone.
“We’re going to play whoever we need to, and it doesn’t exclude Braxton,” Tressel said.
Miller, who was the only quarterback to complete more than half of his passes, has played well enough to be in consideration to become the starter, and has also gained his teammates’ respect.
“I was curious to see how he was going to do today in more of a live setting,” senior center Mike Brewster said. “And I told him. I said: ‘Man, you did a good job today. I’m proud of you.’ He’s just a high school guy out there doing that stuff. That’s pretty impressive.”
But, Brewster said, spring ball is only the beginning. The right to be the starter in the fall might be earned during the next three months, as the team takes a break from practicing until summer camp.
“Over the next few months, he’ll be in the film room learning,” Brewster said. “I’m sure Terrelle will be bringing him along.”
Pryor, Herron, offensive lineman Mike Adams, wide receiver DeVier Posey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits. Tressel will join them for failing to report their violations.