When Ohio State began its spring football practice in early April, Michael Brewster was one player who knew what it was like to be Braxton Miller.
Just like Miller, Brewster entered school for winter quarter and went through spring practice with the Buckeyes when he could have been enjoying the final days of high school. And like Miller, the OSU center stepped onto the field for spring ball having to learn how to play a vital position on the Buckeye offense.
“It really is hard,” Brewster said of playing center or quarterback, two positions that control the lion’s share of presnap decisions among other responsibilities. “To me now it seems like it’s not that big of a deal, but I just try to remember when I was a young guy. I was lost out there, just like everybody else the first few times. You have to give him credit for sticking in there and trying to understand a little more each day.”
With that in mind, Miller ended up putting together an impressive spring, capped by posting a solid performance in the spring game in Ohio Stadium on April 23.
Miller finished the scrimmage 7 for 12 for 73 yards and a 15-yard touchdown pass to Corey Brown. He added four rushes for 19 yards, and while running with the OSU starters for a good portion of the time, he led the Buckeye offense to scores on three of his four drives.
Afterward, head coach Jim Tressel said the Ohio State offense was limited for the scrimmage, which played to the advantage of the freewheeling 6-3, 210-pounder from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne.
“I think today with shrinking the playbook down because we don’t want to show a lot of our stuff, he felt a lot more comfortable out there,” Brewster said. “He was just trying to make plays, and with a guy like that that can run around … it was good to see him kind of relax and play today.”
That spring game showing also had to be a nice confidence boost for Miller, who was generally the fourth signal caller onto the field during spring practices behind senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham. He also worked mostly with the reserves as he worked to pick up the playbook, which Tressel said was by design.
“We’ve been giving those four guys equal reps from day one,” the head coach said. “Braxton probably hasn’t had as much time with the first and second units as the other three guys, but he needed to learn the plays and so forth. We wanted to bring him along slowly.”
Still, the five-star prospect was impressive in many respects. Working often with the second-team offensive line, Miller was forced to scramble quite a bit and showed the elusiveness that allowed him to rush for 17 touchdowns as a senior in high school even while fighting a midseason leg injury.
More than just a rusher, Miller also showed pocket presence during the spring game and kept his eye on the goings on downfield while facing pressure, though his passes showed that he’ll have to continue to work on the accuracy of his ball.
Then there’s his arm, which unleashes the ball with what looks like a minimum of effort, which helped him throw for 2,167 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.
“He has a real quick release,” Brewster said. “I heard the ball come off his hand one time like ‘Whooo.’ I was like, ‘Dang, man.’”
When it comes to the mental side, Miller – as Brewster alluded to – appeared to struggle at first to grasp the speed of the game, but he improved as the spring went along. He also showed a relaxed attitude was surprising to senior wideout DeVier Posey.
“That’s just what kind of kid he is,” Posey said. “He’s just relaxed. He knows how to handle pressure. You know, kids like that don’t come around every so often. I feel like that kid has something special about him.”
Posey was also quick to add that laidback nature can sometimes hurt Miller considering he plays a position that requires vocal leadership.
“At a place like this, you don’t just hand the job over to a true freshman,” Posey said. “You have to earn it, and I feel like Braxton has to show a little bit more urgency. I don’t know how urgent he is. He’s a laidback kid, and it kind of reflects in the film room, it reflects on the field.
“The conversation I have with Braxton all the time, I say, ‘You have to learn how to practice hard. You have to learn to go out and force yourself to go hard. You have to learn how to tell the offensive linemen, ‘Hey, get to the ball! You’re here, you’re there!’ That comes with maturity. I feel like he’ll get there when the time is right, and if he doesn’t he won’t play, but at the same time we’re going to push him.”
Miller, who was not made available to reporters during spring, also got pointers throughout the spring from Terrelle Pryor, the OSU senior who is suspended for the opening five games of the season. Pryor did not take part in spring drills as he continued to rehab a foot injury, but he was a constant presence in the backfield dispensing advice while Miller was scrimmaging.
Right tackle J.B. Shugarts said that attitude extended down the roster.
“Everyone is helping Braxton a lot,” Shugarts said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s really poised out there, especially for someone straight out of high school. He’s not missing a beat at all.”
All in all, it was a successful spring for the quarterback, who will come back in fall with a knowledge base whose foundations were poured throughout April.
“I think it’s hard,” Brewster said. “Quarterback and center are very hard positions to learn here, especially in three weeks. If you can take a few things out of that, you’re going to be doing good.”