With a mostly new coaching staff in place and five starters gone from last season, the Ohio State offense has much work to do this spring. Among the most pressing tasks is developing quarterback Braxton Miller on and off the field.
"I don't think there is a more important position in all of organized sports," said offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who also coaches the team's quarterbacks. "The point guard only has to command four guys. A starting pitcher only plays every five days. The quarterback on a football team has to lead 10 guys and in offensive football may be the most dependent area in all of organized sports too. Ten guys can do their job perfectly and one guy not and you have an unsuccessful play. I think that guy who has the ball in his hands on every single snap has to be the go-to guy. It's been time-tested over the years. Once they put the stripes on the dang field and put the ball in play, it's been the guy taking the snaps who was in charge and it will probably never change."
The 2011 offense hit plenty of rough patches en route to a 6-7 record, but Miller's play was an undeniable bright spot. Sometimes the best play call simply involved the freshman making something out of nothing. He threw the ball inconsistently, but his ability to make people miss got him out of plenty of jams and moved the chains on more than one occasion.
For this season, the challenge for Herman and head coach Urban Meyer is to immerse Miller in their offense and teach him to be not just a play-maker but a field general.
The feeling from coach and player through three days was, "So far, so good," but with the caveat the process has only just begun.
"Braxton is the kind of kid that I think has always been able to lead by example," Herman said. "I'm sure he was from the time he was 7 years old the best player on the court, the field, the ping pong table – it didn't matter. He was the best one there. He's got a great work ethic. He likes to work. He likes to study. Now it's just getting that quietness out of him and getting him more vocal as a leader."
The soft-spoken Miller admits he has had to make a conscious effort to be a more vocal leader both on campus and at the football facilities. He finds it easier this year as a veteran than it was as a freshman.
"Every time you step in the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center) you've got to take charge of your team, so that's what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm getting more vocal. Since my first year has gone past, I'm getting better at communicating with the team and focusing on the scheme.
"Coming in as a freshman there are guys who are 22 or 23 who already have their leaders, so I just wanted to take everything in and make sure I knew what I had to do and be there for them."
As far as physical aspects of playing the position, no one can doubt Miller's ability to run. Herman is not so sure about how the youngster uses his feet when he drops to throw, though.
"I think he's got some definite refinement to do in terms of lower body mechanics," Herman said. "I think his feet are all over the place at times, but the ball comes out nice and smooth. His delivery is actually better than I had anticipated. The mental part of the game is just getting to him now. We've got to progress at that and go at warp speed so he can be that coach on the field that he needs to be."
Though the installation of the offense is still taking place, Miller gave his approval through the early going. The differences between the new spread-based offense and the more traditional attack he engineered last year are clear.
"I like it. It's fast-paced," the quarterback said. "I can read the defense before the defense can even make their play calls to see what they're in. I can make my reads. It's a different type of thing.
"I feel pretty comfortable in the pocket and how it suits my athletic ability and making plays."
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