While the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year may have chosen to return to Ohio State for his senior year even if he had remained injury-free, the need for surgery pretty much put an end to any thoughts he had of forgoing his final season to enter the NFL Draft.
“I really didn’t think about it too much because ever since everything happened in the Clemson game, I was like, ‘Welp!’ he said as he broke into an extended laugh. “I didn’t think about (the possibility of leaving early) anymore.”
Now that Miller has returned for one more year of Fun Zone entertainment, it’s safe to say that Ohio State can ill afford an injury of any kind to the Huber Heights, Ohio, native. The safety blanket that was fifth-year senior Kenny Guiton is gone, and in his place is sophomore Cardale Jones (career passing yards total: 3).
“How important is it for Cleveland to keep LeBron healthy?” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman rhetorically asked in response to a query about the importance of Miller’s health. “That's probably answered the same way. I mean, yeah. We all revolve around him. To keep him healthy is huge, so yeah, there's nothing else really to say.”
Miller’s importance doesn’t mean that Ohio State will attempt to change the way he plays. The dual-threat playmaker has rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and has amassed 3,054 rushing yards in his career. The Buckeyes still plan on using Meyer’s legs as a weapon, and they still trust him to use his feet to get out of trouble when it arises.
“So do we try to slow Braxton down? Absolutely not,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer 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.
“And 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.”
Whether its prized asset will be adequately protected is the biggest concern in the Ohio State football program right now. The Ohio State offensive line from 2013 was one that college football analyst Phil Steele believes was one of the best in the country and near the top in school history, but just one starter returns.
Left tackle Jack Mewhort, a second-round draft pick, is gone, as are left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall. Only right tackle Taylor Decker remains, and he’ll be sliding over to the left side this fall. The ability of offensive line coach Ed Warinner can mold a unit capable of keeping Miller upright is front and center in Meyer’s world right now.
“Concern number one,” Meyer said. “I mean, that's it. There's a bunch of concerns you always have. It's A through F, A through Z, A through X, whatever it is. But the number one on the list is development of that offensive line for the reasons you just said, among many others.”
While missing spring would have derailed the offseason of some quarterbacks, Miller is experienced enough that the lack of reps won’t hurt him.
“It’s not like we would have seen Braxton Miller improve the same way a young quarterback would improve through the spring, so I’m not too concerned about it,” Steele said. “As long as he comes back healthy, I think missing the spring is a non-factor when you look at the bulk of experience he has as a quarterback in college football.”
In an attempt to compensate for the lack of throwing reps, Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman designed a unique way to keep Miller involved and mentally sharp. At spring practices, Miller strapped on a camera and gave his thoughts on the defensive alignments and proper reads in the offense. The video was broken down by the OSU coaching staff each night.
He also joined Meyer for sessions designed to simulate Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, with the OSU head coach demanding that Miller be able to answer rapid-fire questions. Miller said he’s gotten much better at recognizing defenses and can rattle off the required answers in less than two seconds when presented with a situation.
“That’s probably what I needed, you know, just learning the game from the shoulders up,” Miller said. “Just learning from the defensive coaches, standing back and just looking how practice is without practicing. It helps a lot.”
As for the injury? Consider it a distant memory at this point. Miller has already been throwing for two months and said he feels better than ever.
“I feel like when you have surgery, you come back stronger,” he said. “That’s how I feel.”
Ohio State is counting on it.