Braxton Miller’s return to the practice field came on a dreary Tuesday morning at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
While Miller, who was once Ohio State’s unquestioned starting quarterback, was limited in the size and scope of what he could do during the team’s first spring practice, there was a certain sense of optimism that abounded around the program.
“There’s a part of me that’s excited to see that guy out there and warm up and run through the drills,” said coach Urban Meyer, who has talked of an especially-close bond with Miller.
Meyer added: “The relationship part of me is that I love Braxton Miller. I always have. He’s always done what I’ve asked him to do. He’s a selfless guy that works really hard.”
Before a season-ending shoulder last August, Miller — who is a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and once a preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner — was the face of the Buckeyes.
In Meyer’s first season, Miller buoyed Ohio State en route to a 12-0 finish that was supposed to be a precursor of things to come under in a new era. In 2013, Miller again guided his crew in a campaign that shattered school records, but fell short of the team’s goal of winning a national title. Last year was supposed to be Miller’s swan song as he was expected to be the centerpiece of a team competing for the sport's top prize.
Without him, Ohio State overcame a bevy of obstacles to capture the first-ever College Football Playoff national championship. But in the process, the Buckeyes — which leaned on J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in Miller’s absence — proved they could do it without him.
After speculation that Miller might transfer for his fifth and final season in the unfamiliar shadows of his backups, he affirmed his allegiance to Ohio State during the team’s national title coronation in January before 40,000 fans at Ohio Stadium.
Because of this, the start of spring ball also marks the start of a journey for Miller, who is competing with Barrett and Jones to be the team’s starting quarterback. It’s a quandary — one that some have described as an embarrassment of riches — that’s garnered national attention. “I think it is fairly unique, I don’t think I’ve ever been in this situation.”
Meyer played down the notion of the competition. “Each player, each day is separate,” he said.
“Today,” Meyer continued, “was all about Braxton continuing along his journey to get healthy.” Miller’s role next fall remains unclear as his shoulder heals and questions linger over its dexterity.
But Miller’s presence on the practice fields Tuesday morning seemed to elicit happy memories of Miller, who became one of college football's most electrifying players with his blazing speed and acrobatics.
“It’s just good because people know his face around here. Even the young guys coming in here — everybody knows Braxton and knows what a great player he has been here," Taylor Decker, the soon-to-be senior left tackle. "It’s been a while since he’s been able to be out there with us.”