Urban Meyer stood at midfield in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center donning a baseball cap, hiding a long scar and any evidence from his weekend brain surgery. Nearby was Ohio State’s game-breaking quarterback Braxton Miller, who was wearing a sling on his throwing arm, the evidence from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
That one image, combined with the Buckeyes’ consecutive losses to end that season, doesn’t inspire hope. But coach and quarterback are slated to be 100 percent come August, and Miller could learn more than ever while not taking a single snap this spring. It’ll be filled with observing the offense live, pouring over video and discussions with Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
“I think he understands his weaknesses,” Meyer said. “That’s verbal and keeping his eyes on the secondary."
Hurry-up offenses, flashy uniforms and recruiting via social media aren’t the only pieces of college football’s new, sleeker age. The latest device to attract attention is a quarterback camera Ohio State’s using. It simply attaches to their head and is accompanied with a microphone.
Miller wore one on Tuesday and will do so throughout spring practices, allowing him to call plays, see defensive coverages, spot any mix-ups and communicate with fellow signal callers and coaches.
“The issue a year ago was fundamentals: footwork, balance, ball control,” Meyer said. “His issues now are verbal communication and keeping the eyes on the secondary. Every play, we’re having him say what he sees. It will be a productive spring.”
Even though he won’t participate in drills, Miller has a checklist to complete this spring. There are mechanical issues, as well as preparation items of which film study is the top priority. As a soon-to-be four-year starter, Miller’s reached the point in his career where reading defenses and translating the spread offense should be come without much thought.
He’s also determined to become a better leader. Miller’s first three seasons haven’t included a major leadership role. But that will change as the offensive line undergoes an overhaul and running back Carlos Hyde moves on to the NFL.
For Miller, spring is all about the mental part of football.
“He still can get a whole lot better [mentally],” Herman said. “He can probably make that same leap this year and still have work to do – just the constant studying of the game, studying of defenses and the studying of our plays now that we’ve kind of done the same thing for two years in a row. He’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down and he needs to stay on that path.”
While accepting his second Big Ten Silver Football award, Miller acknowledged that he needs to become more polished in the pocket, improve “from the shoulders up” and develop leadership qualities. The need to get better always exists. But it sounds humorous when one considers all Miller’s accomplished in three seasons. The lack of even a conference championship and his late-season dive last year is all the justification one needs.
“If he doesn’t have a good summer, it will cost him a lot. He’ll be a very average player.”– Urban Meyer
If anyone watched the Orange Bowl, they witnessed a scarlet-clad quarterback under duress much of the night. Miller took several punishing hits with the cumulative effect causing his need for surgery. As he ran for daylight, Miller’s ability to read defenses vanished, contributing to multiple interceptions.
Meyer wants his quarterback to get his head up and eyes downfield in the future. It’s easier said than done when a mounting rush comes straight at you.
“That’s why there’s a lot of average quarterbacks out there,” Meyer said. “You have to be a tough nut to stand back there, have a pass rush coming at you and keep your eyes down the field. That’s typical of every quarterback I’ve been around. You have to fight your way through that.”
Fundamentals and football IQ all tie into the on-field process. If a quarterback knows what he and others are doing, the offensive flow is smoother. When breakdowns occur, it becomes contagious with tentacles reaching out to each part of the offense.
Miller returned to college to rid his game of those deficiencies. Learning every day has provided a sense of urgency and expanded Miller’s growing knowledge of the game.
“I don’t know if you can learn too much and not be the best,” Miller said. “You have to put in the effort and the time to get better every day. So I feel like I’m going to improve.”
The figure who’s been a constant force in Miller’s evolution from skilled athlete to quarterback is Herman. He counseled Miller on reading defenses, telling the quarterback it’s about repetition, not cramming. There’s no similarity in taking a test. Herman wants Miller to remember details for weeks and months, not days.
“I think he’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down,” Herman said. “If you’ve ever stood back there and tried to make a decision in 1.9 seconds and see the things that he has to see and process that kind of information that fast, there’s a tremendous learning curve to that. Fundamentally, the more we keep attacking that side of it, the more consistent he’ll be, because he knows how to do that.”
From early March to mid-April, the lack of reps is not a detriment to Miller’s continued development. Thanks to futuristic technology, he should improve the areas measured by psychology.
Championships are won and lost during the months of May, June and July, the timeframe Meyer and Herman yearn for a blossoming Miller.
“If he doesn’t have a good summer, it will cost him a lot,” Meyer said. “He’ll be a very average player.”