Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FICKELL NEEDS TO GO ALL-IN WITH FRESHMAN QB BRAXTON MILLER

Braxton Miller
(The Buckeye Times/Joe Stueve)
When one door closes, another door always opens.

With Terrelle Pryor calling it quits Tuesday as a member of the Ohio State football team, the Buckeyes are now left with the huge task of trying to find his replacement as starting quarterback.

It certainly won't be an easy decision for interim head coach Luke Fickell, who himself is trying to replace a legend in Jim Tressel.

Attempting to remove the interim tag will be a hard enough job for Fickell, but doing it without a veteran quarterback like Pryor could make the effort excruciatingly difficult.

There are officially four players who will vie for the gig as Pryor's replacement this fall — senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, red-shirt freshman Taylor Graham and true freshman Braxton Miller — but in actuality, Bauserman and Miller are viewed as the two most probable candidates.

Bauserman — a 6-foot-1, 230-pound fifth-year senior from Tallahassee (Fla.) — has the most experience of the four quarterbacks in the Buckeyes system.

However, Bauserman — who played three years of minor league baseball prior to arriving at Ohio State — has only attempted 47 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns during his time in Columbus, most of which coming against inferior competition when the outcome of the game had already been decided.

Although he provides Fickell with the most knowledge of the group from a system standpoint, his lack of mobility and passing skills could make the offense too one-dimensional. With Bauserman, the offensive play-calling would be limited dramatically compared to what was ran with Pryor at the controls.

To sum up Bauserman's prospectus ... he's a stopgap player, at best. Not exactly the type of guy you want to rely on running the show when you're auditioning for a full-time job like Fickell is this season at Ohio State.

Miller, on the other hand, is fresh out of high school and his knowledge of the Buckeyes offense isn't as vast as Bauserman's. However, Miller's abilities are limitless.

The five-star recruit from Huber Heights (OH) Wayne has been tabbed since his sophomore year of high school as the eventual replacement for Pryor at Ohio State. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound All-American was a four-year starter at Wayne and led his team to the 2010 Ohio Division I State Championship game as a senior.

He finished last season with nearly 3,000 yards of offense and 34 total touchdowns, earning first-team all-Ohio honors in the process.

Miller, whose athletic skills rival Pryor's, could make the transition easier for Fickell, who wouldn't have to re-vamp the entire offense with the freshman under center. Actually, Fickell could essentially run the exact offense as Tressel did with Pryor and probably wouldn't skip a beat. Miller is that good.

During the spring game in April, the freshman phenom was by far the most impressive of the four quarterbacks, combining for 92 yards of offense and a touchdown pass, while sharing equal time with the others.

Miller reminds one of a bigger, faster Troy Smith. Also, the offense Miller operated at Huber Heights Wayne is extremely similar to the one Ohio State ran with Pryor and Smith, so the transition shouldn't be too dramatic for the young star.

Simply said, Miller is the future of the Buckeyes. Now it's just a matter of whether Fickell decides if that future will begin this season or not.

Former Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden said in April — at Tressel's coaching clinic in Columbus — that the Buckeyes must use kid gloves while bringing Miller along early on in the process.

"(Miller) just got here. He's really still a high school player," Gruden said. "All of a sudden he's potentially going to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes early in the season. We've got to slowly implement our offense with him and teach him and let him gain some confidence along the way."

Problem is, Fickell doesn't have the luxury of bringing a kid along slowly. He must play whomever is truly the best quarterback, even if it is a true freshman. If he believes Miller is the best man for the job, which many do — including myself — then the interim coach mustn't hesitate by going all-in with the youngster.

However, if Fickell does heed Gruden's advice of bringing him along slowly, he may just be keeping Miller on ice for the next Ohio State head coach.

Perhaps even Gruden himself.