Feet don't fail

Miller shows signs this spring of more ease with scrambling when necessary

Updated: March 31, 2013, 6:13 PM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The season had just ended, and Urban Meyer already had a hypothesis formed about his star quarterback.

The Ohio State coach had no doubts about Braxton Miller's ability as a runner, which he had put on spectacular display while propelling himself into the Heisman Trophy race and his team to an undefeated record.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireBraxton Miller admits that many times during 2012, he was too focused on connecting on pass plays to break out and scramble.
But those skills with his legs seemingly hadn't made him a threat as a scrambler, which might seem like a bit of an oxymoron, given Miller's gaudy statistics on the ground, his flashy acceleration and uncanny ability to escape a pass rush.

Meyer already was aware of the plays that had been called all season, and perhaps he didn't really need the hard data to prove his point. Regardless, the Buckeyes ran the study on where all that yardage came from. If it confirmed what Meyer already knew, that was just fine.

The real message was apparently meant to be delivered to Miller as part of his ongoing evolution as the ultimate weapon in the spread offense.

"Well, actually I know the number. It's 87 yards scrambling," Miller said after practice last week. "I knew I didn't scramble as much, and I don't know why that was.

"My number got called so much [as a rusher], when things opened up, I wanted to get the ball to an open receiver and make a play happen. But I don't know why I didn't scramble as much last year."

The Buckeyes survived without Miller doing it all that successfully last season, thanks largely to the fact that he racked up more than 1,000 yards on designed runs along with 13 rushing touchdowns as he guided the most prolific attack in the Big Ten. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman certainly aren't trying to get Miller to completely change his approach and start taking off on every snap, particularly since there are more pressing issues -- like his footwork as a passer and ability to read coverages -- to worry about during spring camp.

Picking up some yardage that was left on the field last fall, whether because he was too intent on throwing when a pass was called or whatever other reason, has been a teaching point for Miller. And considering some of the lanes that opened up ahead of him that he might have turned down in the past, improvements as a scrambler could make his numbers more impressive than they already are.

"Very, very few of his yards were on pass-then-scramble [plays]," Herman said. "I don't know that it's a problem more than it's just the kid wants to make a play, you call a pass and he's going to try to keep the play alive and throw a pass. You have to remind him sometimes that he's the best athlete on the field, go be an athlete when stuff breaks down, go get us a first down.

"I don't know that we work on it because there are so many things that we've got to get better throwing the football. If he were to take off every time there was a scramble opening, then you're robbing Peter to pay Paul a little bit. I think it's just an emphasis that you tell him, 'Hey, now here's one of those times where everything has broken down, take off and go.' For the most part, he's done a decent job of that -- better at least than it has been."

Miller's strides could open up another avenue for a Meyer offense that wasn't yet operating at its highest capacity even while the Buckeyes were running the table.

There wasn't a true multipurpose threat to play the hybrid H-back position, though Jordan Hall has returned as a candidate for that role, and Ohio State signed two elite athletes in February who also could quickly fill that void.

The receiving corps was low on depth and relied heavily on Philly Brown and Devin Smith to carry the load, but there have already been signs this spring that Miller will have more targets available in the fall, before a talented group of signees arrives on campus.

Then there's his own game, which should be more refined as a passer as Miller heads into his junior season. But even when Miller can't show off his arm, those numbers Meyer crunched from a year ago appear to have stuck in his mind -- and that could give defenses more headaches.

"You know, they're not really pushing me like that," Miller said. "It's more like if it's open and everybody is covered down the field, just take off, things like that.

"I'm not going to go out there, take one step and then take off -- don't scramble like that. But if the seam is open, just take it."

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter