For the third time in his college career, Braxton Miller is set to enter spring practice as the starting quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
But for the first time as OSU’s signal caller, the rising senior likely won’t participate over the course of the 15 practice sessions after undergoing minor surgery on his throwing shoulder Feb. 21.
According to an OSU press release, Miller “isn’t likely to take a snap” because of the surgery, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be busy improving his game.
Two days before Miller had the surgery, the quarterback from Huber Heights, Ohio, paid a visit to the OSU men’s basketball game against Northwestern to accept his second consecutive Chicago Tribune Silver Football, which is given to the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player.
Miller said that night he “cherished” winning the award for a second time, but also shed some light on what he needs to do to become an even better asset to the team.
“Get more polished in the pocket … I think the game is changing now. There’s a lot of things that tie into that,” Miller said Feb. 19. “But I just (have to) work leadership-wise, and just learn the whole aspect of the game from the shoulders up. Just make sure I know everything.”
Miller’s quarterbacks coach Tom Herman echoed the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player, adding how even though he has all the physical tools to wreak havoc on defenses, he isn’t where he needs to be mentally yet.
“As improved as he got in the mental side of playing quarterback (this past season), he still can get a whole lot better,” Herman said. “(He) could probably make that same leap this year and still have work to do.”
Miller’s leap as a passer in 2013 is evident in his numbers, as his passing touchdowns, passer rating and completion percentage all improved from the year before. But Herman said he believes those numbers can jump even higher if Miller puts in the time studying the game.
“When you know what you’re doing, and you know what you’re seeing, and you know what everyone around you is doing, it’s easy to play with great fundamentals because you’re very relaxed,” Herman said.
Miller officially announced his decision to put the NFL Draft on hold and return for his final year of eligibility Jan. 9, saying he “made the right decision” after talking to Herman, his family and coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer said on National Signing Day Feb. 5 he thought it was a definite possibility he wouldn’t have Miller at his disposal in 2014, but said he wasn’t shy about giving the quarterback his opinion on the matter.
“I told him my opinion that he could become a very high draft pick if he continues to improve,” Meyer said. “And he said, ‘That’s what I thought.’ It wasn’t much more than that. We met together as a family … but I gave my opinion as far as how much more he could grow as a quarterback.”
It appears that could be the theme of Miller’s 2014 campaign: developing mentally and physically as a quarterback to boost his stock for the 2015 NFL Draft.
“You can learn every day,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of things I gotta learn on the field and outside the field too. On the football side, you can learn from coach Meyer, coach Herman, defensive coach — you can learn from anybody every day. Get better every day. I don’t know if you can learn too much and not be the best, but put in the effort and the time to get better every day so I feel like I’m going to improve.”
Herman said he wants his quarterback to be able to know what opposing defenses will do on any given down.
“I told him it’s more, you don’t want to memorize like you’re memorizing something to take a test tomorrow. You want to know it so that at any given point tomorrow, a week from now I can say, ‘Hey, show me where the Sam (linebacker) goes in Cover 3. But what about Cover 2?’ And boom, just get on the board and go,” Herman said. “I think he’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down.”
Whether or not Miller participates in OSU’s Spring Game, set for April 12 in Ohio Stadium after the Buckeye lacrosse team takes on Michigan at 11 a.m., is still up for debate, but in his absence, the players looking to take the reps and compete to back him up are rising redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones and rising redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett. True freshman and early enrollee Stephen Collier will also be in the mix, but his time under center is likely to come after Miller departs.
Miller was mum on the feedback he received from draft experts, instead saying with a laugh he would share “maybe when I leave next year.” But he did say he ultimately never thought he was going to leave Columbus.
“There wasn’t a deep thought about that,” Miller said. “I always knew I was eventually going to make that decision that I was going to come back.”
Barring any other injuries, Miller and his surgically repaired right shoulder are set to lead OSU in its first game of the 2014 season, scheduled for Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore against Navy. Kickoff is set for noon.