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August 21, 2012
Having tantalized with his quickness and footwork, a signal-caller now needs to develop his pocket presence
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August 21, 2012

Pass-first Must Be Second Nature

Having tantalized with his quickness and footwork, a signal-caller now needs to develop his pocket presence

WHEN NEW OHIO STATE COACH URBAN MEYER WATCHES BRAXTON MILLER, HIS 6' 2", 210-POUND sophomore quarterback, he sees something he has never seen before. "He's fast," Meyer says. "Like ... legitimate fast. I've never had a guy this fast. Josh Harris was a very good athlete, Alex Smith was a good athlete, Tim Tebow was a very good athlete, so I've had athletic quarterbacks. But he has a skill set that I've really not had before."

In one of those ironies of football, that speed is what's slowing down Miller's development. To truly master the spread offense that Meyer used to turn Bowling Green (with Harris) into a mid-major power, bring Utah (with Smith) into the BCS conversation and win two national titles at Florida (with Chris Leak and Tebow), Miller must become a serviceable passer. As a true freshman he had more rushing attempts (159) than passes thrown (157). Every once in a while this season Miller will have to relax, make a read, plant his feet and throw. Right now his legs aren't having it.

"It's really hard with athletic guys because they want their feet moving all the time," says Tom Herman, the Buckeyes' first-year offensive coordinator. "He has to calm down and understand there's a certain footwork to every route that we throw, a specific timing that needs to be adhered to. But there's just too much bouncing and hopping in his drops." Still, Herman has been dazzled. "On a daily basis [during the spring] there were probably one or two plays where I'd say, 'Wow, look at that throw,' " he says. "The smoothness of his delivery and the strength of his arm are both very, very impressive. But [the footwork] has to become muscle memory."

It's not an uncorrectable problem, especially given Miller's pedigree. He arrived in Columbus from Huber Heights, Ohio, after a senior season in which he led Wayne High to the state's Division I title game by running for 658 yards and 17 touchdowns—and passing for 2,167 yards and another 17 scores. At Ohio State, after splitting time with Joe Bauserman for the first three games of 2011, Miller stepped in as the starter and never relinquished the spot. He rushed for 715 yards, fourth among Big Ten quarterbacks, and seven touchdowns, including three 100-yard rushing games among the last five. But he threw for only 1,159 yards as the Buckeyes stumbled to a 6--7 record.

"I was just average," admits Miller, a communications major. "But playing with a whole bunch of seniors last year, I feel like I grew up fast."

That maturity started to shine through last November, when Miller became the first true freshman quarterback to start for an Ohio State team at Michigan. He delivered his best all-around game of the year: 14 for 25 for 235 yards on a variety of throws, two touchdowns and an interception to go along with 100 rushing yards in a shootout 40--34 loss to the rival Wolverines. It was the first time he completed more than eight passes in a game, and it's a big reason for optimism heading into his sophomore year. So, too, is Miller's demeanor.

"I love him," says Meyer. "I love him as a person. He's a very humble guy, he always wants to talk football, and he's very serious about his work."

For Miller, the warm, fuzzy feeling is mutual when it comes to Meyer's spread offense. "Oh, it's lovely," he says. "I just need to get the ball out of my hand fast and get it to the playmakers." If he learns to use his arm for more than just tucking the ball away, Miller could become another all--Meyer quarterback.