Making the case for Braxton Miller
June, 25, 2013
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBraxton Miller may not reach his full potential in '13, but he still could be the best player in the nation.You saw last season what Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller could do in an offense more suited to his skill set.
Remember this? And this? And this?
But it's what Miller didn't do that builds his case to be the nation's best quarterback in the 2013 season.
Take his scrambling skills, for example.
"Awful," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "Just awful."
We'll come back later to how a quarterback who rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season can be such an awful scrambler.
For now, let's move onto Miller's grasp of the Buckeyes' offense.
"We went 12-0 last year, he finished fifth in the Heisman [voting] and he couldn't draw you where all 11 guys were going to be," Herman said.
Scrambling and system knowledge are just two of the areas Miller will set out to improve in his junior season in Columbus. He led Ohio State to just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history, won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Silver Football (league MVP) honors, recorded a team-record 3,310 yards of total offense and had 26 runs of 20 yards or longer.
But he hasn't come close to reaching his potential as a college player. And that, more than any other reason, is why you should believe in Braxton. Herman does.
"He hasn’t fought me any step of the way," Herman said. "The kid, he wants to be the best in the country, so I need to give him as many tools as I can to allow that to happen."
Miller's evolution as a quarterback starts, somewhat surprisingly, with his feet. He has worked throughout the offseason to be more consistent with his footwork on passes, both in the pocket and on the run.
Herman also wants Miller to remember his feet while going through his reads.
"It's more pocket presence, pocket awareness, getting from read to read, resetting your feet," Herman said. "He's had really good footwork, he's always shown glimpses of it, but [he needs] to be much more consistent with it."
Miller completed just 58.3 percent of his passes in 2012, a number Herman wants to see between 67-70 percent this season. Herman admits he needs to do a better job calling high-percentage passes for Miller, who will have a deeper group of pass-catchers at his disposal, not to mention the Big Ten's best offensive line.
The coaches condensed the passing playbook this spring so Miller could get more comfortable with Ohio State's core routes.
"He did a very good job of figuring out where all the pieces of this puzzle are going to be," Herman said. "The thing with Braxton is you could probably quiz him right now in a sterile environment, and he'd tell you all the right answers. Last year, he couldn't even do that. Now it’s getting out there with all the chaos and conflict, for him to be able to snap the answers right back to you."
Miller also is getting more comfortable as a leader. Although the introverted Buckeye differs from Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer's last Heisman-winning quarterback -- "We're maximizing as much vocalism as he’s got," Herman said -- he has taken greater initiative this summer, calling teammates to gather for workouts and making every rep count.
"You have to see it from when he was a freshman to now," slotback Jordan Hall said. "It's just crazy how he grew over the years."
Part of that growth is learning when to scramble. Herman estimates that of Miller's 1,271 rushing yards in 2012, only about 200 came on scrambles. If Herman called a pass, Miller believed he had to throw one, even when the window wasn't there.
Herman would like to call fewer designed runs for Miller, and more passes that Miller could turn into big gains on the ground if the opportunities are there.
"You're the best athlete on the field, you've got the ball in your hands, you've got open space, go take off and run," Herman said. "We've done a better job as a staff of making him aware of why we want him to do that. It doesn't make him less of a quarterback because he scrambles."
Miller's offseason to-do list is long, but his ceiling as a college quarterback also is very high. He won't reach that ceiling during the 2013 season, according to Herman, but he still could hoist the Heisman in December and the crystal football in January.
"It will be really hard, because of some of the rudimentary and remedial things we still had to work on, for him to reach his full potential this season," Herman said. "But I think he can be the best in the country, which is scary to say that not at his best, he can still be the best in the country.
"That's a legitimate goal."