Replacing four starters on the offensive line. Building depth on the defensive line. Establishing a hierarchy at running back. It’s all part of the fall camp to-do list for Ohio State. So too is resting Braxton Miller.
The calendar says August, but for the Buckeyes’ fireballer it’s March. Miller, Ohio State’s Opening Day starter, is preparing for the season as if he were Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale. The ace of the staff is on a pitch count.
“We’re kind of bringing him along slowly,” offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said Wednesday. “I think we have a really good plan to get him where he needs to be Aug. 30. We definitely don’t need to rush it.”
Head coach Urban Meyer and Miller himself have said he’s at 100 percent after offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder. But Meyer said Monday that Miller’s shoulder was sore. Two days later, he was limited throwing the football in practice. It came as a surprise even with Meyer previously saying Miller would be eased back into things.
During spring practice, he became an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Miller was equipped with a camera attached to a hat, and he recited the offensive and defensive plays. BraxCam allowed him to grow as a student of the game. It’s a benefit for this season, but even more important going forward to the NFL.
In a conversation with ESPN.com Wednesday, Miller scoffed at the notion that a shoulder injury could be lingering.
“I’m 100 percent, just trying to stay healthy,” he said. “I’ve got to get it back in shape. Mental reps are one of the best things you can do, so I’m not complaining.”
Neither are backups Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. The duo shared first-team reps, which could prove rewarding for Ohio State. Miller’s had injury issues dating back to high school, making the No. 2 quarterback job one of importance.
You won’t find any Ohio State coaches concerned about Miller’s status, though. He’s a soon-to-be four-year starter whose stats have improved every season. Even when Miller was carted out of Ohio Stadium two years ago, coaches didn’t show an ounce of worry.
So, two years later, as Miller operates under the watchful eye of those paid to win football games, fans need not panic.
“I love Braxton’s work ethic, his attitude, his mentality,” Warinner said. “His mindset is awesome. His understanding of the game is great, and his leadership has improved. We’re just letting him come along physically.
“It’s part of the plan. There was no he got the hook in the middle of the day. It was all planned out. We’re doing that with some other guys who started a lot who are coming off injuries, just watching their volume until they build into it.”
The release of Ohio State’s official roster is treated as a holiday in Columbus. Freshmen numbers are revealed, position changes are discovered and new weights are learned. As LeBron James drops weight, Miller is adding it – in the form of muscle.
“He plays so hard and it’s such a collision sport and there’s so much velocity and acceleration and impact – that’s our goal is to make him increase that strength level to anticipate some of those forces or give out some of those forces,” strength coach Mickey Marotti said. “When he turns and runs up the field and he hits that guy, maybe he’s the one applying the force more than him getting knocked back.”
Rest assured the 216-pound right-hander will be atop the Cy Young – err, Big Ten Silver Football ballot again this season. For now, though, it’s slow and steady.
“Just bring him along like a pitcher in spring training – an inning, then two innings, then three innings,” Warinner said. “Then by the time Opening Day comes, can he pitch seven innings for you, or eight innings, or whatever you need.”
The answer is trending toward landslide territory; a resounding yes.