CHICAGO – The thing that makes Braxton Miller so dazzling also makes him a liability.
He’s the impetus of an Ohio State team, previously winners of 24-straight games, that feels like it’s on a mission to accomplish unfinished business after coming undone last season.
So what happens if its most valuable player gets hurt?
Or better yet, how important is it to keep the senior quarterback healthy?
It’s a question that can be answered with another question.
“How important is it for Cleveland to keep LeBron healthy?” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said Monday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
Because like the NBA megastar, Miller, one of the nation’s finest dual-threat quarterbacks, is central to the Buckeyes’ success. They can’t afford to lose him. This isn’t anything not already known.
Last spring, Meyer and Co. got a taste of life without the Heisman Trophy candidate after he underwent shoulder surgery in February.
While it gave Miller a chance to look at the game from a different perspective, it gave Ohio State a sobering dose of what its offense might look without No. 5 behind center.
And when you’re already trying to replace four starters on a historically dominant offensive line charged to protect an injury-prone quarterback, it’s a big deal.
“Our quarterback – I know we'll get asked that question – is ready to go,” Meyer said. “He's full speed, in the best shape of his life.”
But that doesn’t guarantee Miller won’t get banged up next year. His style of play lends itself to cuts, bumps, bruises and, sometimes, worse.
The way Miller plays is intertwined with the risk of bodily harm.
“His issues are he goes sometimes above and beyond what his body is going to allow him to do,” Meyer said.
Of course, it’s a blessing and a curse.
And for better or for worse, Meyer and Ohio State are starting to accept it.
“Do we try to slow Braxton down? Absolutely not,” he said. “We try to protect him, surround him and maybe come up with a good scheme to get the ball out of his hands maybe a little quicker. Those are all the things that we address.
"But the durability issue isn't because his body wasn't meant to play college football. It's because of how hard he plays.”
Meyer insists Miller’s cut from the same thread of some of the best players he's coached.
“Tebow, John Simon, Braxton Miller, Christian Bryant, those are guys that have the competitive spirit at the highest possible level, and that's all they do is know how to go,” he said.
“You can look around the country and there's guys – you know who they are. Every program's got a couple of those guys that play just so darned hard that sometimes things happen.”
But without a proven backup quarterback to spell Miller, let alone replace him, an injury could derail a campaign filled with hopes and dreams of Big Ten and national titles.
“You just gotta be smart about your play, make sure you don’t do anything extra to bring yourself to being out a couple games,” Miller said.
“Just be smart.”
After all, Ohio State’s season is hinging upon it.