COLUMBUS — Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller laughs long and hard when asked if he’s bought up every available copy of the recent Sports Illustrated that had him on the cover.
No, he said eventually, he didn’t corner the market.
But he’s comfortable being a cover boy and readily accepts that if he continues to develop and the Buckeyes continue to win, then things such as a Heisman Trophy and other forms of individual recognition are inevitable.
“You work hard for it and little things like that, it pays off,” he said Thursday night after a spring workout. “You just keep working, you never know.”
Miller leads a Buckeyes offense that welcomes back nine starters, including almost everyone who touched the ball on a regular basis last season when Ohio State put up a surprising 12-0 record.
Now Miller, already a starter for two full years, is prepping for his junior season at the controls of coach Urban Meyer’s offense.
He knows big things are expected of the Buckeyes — and of him.
“I’ve been hearing (about the high expectations) every time I go somewhere, ever since the last game of the season,” he said. “Finishing 12-0 was big. I’ll live with the expectation and keep working hard.”
Late last season, Meyer and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Tom Herman agreed that Miller needed to get better at fundamentals such as footwork, throwing motion and decision making. Miller, an acclaimed high school recruit out of nearby Springfield, has all the physical tools. He can run like the wind, can elude tacklers and has a strong arm.
Now it’s necessary to get better. Immediately.
“I would say if he was at a 1 this time last year and a 4 at the end of the season, he’s at a 6 right now,” Herman said. “He could be an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s just a matter of the process and the teaching progression has to be at a pace where he can feel good about where he’s at. And then take the next step, and get really good at whatever he’s working on at that point, and then take the next step and the next step.”
Miller finished fifth in the Heisman balloting a year ago after being selected as the Big Ten’s player of the year. He set a school record with 3,310 yards of total offense last fall, rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns and passing for 2,039 more with 15 TDs and only six interceptions.
The bar is raised constantly, it seems. Once Miller achieves something, the coaches expect more. Once he meets that standard, he’s asked to do something else.
Meyer is satisfied with his pace of development, but makes it clear the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder still hasn’t scratched the surface. Miller learned a lot of bad habits when he was pressed into duty two years ago during Ohio State’s dreadful 6-7 season, starting as a freshman and learning while getting tossed to the wolves each Saturday.
“He’s doing good. Not great, but he’s doing very good,” Meyer said earlier this week. “Not that he didn’t do good last year, but you wish you didn’t have to play him that first year. He wasn’t ready to play. And he still was Big Ten freshman of the year. It just tells you how talented he is. But his quarterback development is behind a little bit.”
Miller worked with a passing-game guru in Los Angeles over the holidays and plans on getting more instruction this summer. His teammates say he’s improving by leaps and bounds.
His freshman year, he was overwhelmed by everything. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t learn some valuable lessons.
“In some ways it was good,” he said. “Being a young guy, coming in, stepping in, taking the first snap as a freshman. (Having to handle) the pressure. Taking the snaps in front of all those fans. It’s big.”
During his second season, he was trying to learn a new offense and get to know a new coaching staff. Now he’s finding his footing — literally.
“I just think he’s got a great grasp of the offense right now,” said his backup and good friend, Kenny Guiton. “Last year around this time we were just trying to learn it. Having a year in, I think he’s learned it and now he’s just going out and having fun with it instead of thinking.”
Herman again refers to where he could be on a scale of 1 to 10.
“Do we all want him to be an 11 today? Yes, we do. And he would tell you that, too,” he said. “Because we see it, we know that it’s there. But you have to be careful with how much you dump on a kid all at once or else you do more harm than good in terms of stunting that growth.”
And Miller’s growth is something that is being watched very, very carefully at Ohio State.