Saturday, August 20, 2011

MILLER IMPRESSES AT OSU JERSEY SCRIMMAGE; FRESHMEN STEPPING UP

Braxton Miller at practice this week.
AP/Terry Gilliam
COLUMBUS — If Saturday's Ohio State jersey scrimmage was any indication, true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is going to see the playing field early and often this fall for the Buckeyes.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Huber Heights (OH) displayed those much heralded abilities which made him one of the most highly touted prep signal callers in the country last season, irritating the Buckeyes' defense continuously on Saturday with both his arm and his ultra athletic feet.

Miller led all Buckeye passers with two touchdown tosses on the day, and finished 9-of-16 (unofficially) for 117 yards and zero interceptions. Most of his passes during the scrimmage were on time and on the mark. He even showed his capabilities throwing the ball deep downfield, when he hit sophomore receiver Chris Fields on a 58-yard scoring strike against the first-team defense midway through the scrimmage.

Miller also carried a confidence that was very noticeable.

Late in the scrimmage, after seeing a potential touchdown pass to receiver T.Y. Williams dropped at the goal line, Miller came right back at the defense, connecting with fellow true freshman Evan Spencer for a 17-yard score.

As good as Miller was passing the ball on Saturday, it was his running ability that set him apart from the rest of signal callers on hand, rushing for a team-high 31 yards on three carries during the day. His movements and escapability in the pocket were very reminiscent of Troy Smith.

Buckeyes head coach Luke Fickell didn't want people to get ahead of themselves by offering comparisons to the former Heisman Trophy winner, but the new mentor liked what he witnessed out of his young quarterback on Saturday.

"I wouldn't crown anybody as Troy-esque by any means yet," Fickell smiled. "But we know he has that, and by nature that's what he can do. We've got to give him that ability ... You can see some impressive things (with Miller).

"He obviously did a good job of moving around, he didn't turn the ball over and that's probably one of the most important things we will be focused on."

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, who's been in a battle for the starting job with Miller all camp long, also fared well in the scrimmage, finishing 6-of-12 (unofficially) for 119 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The touchdown came against the second unit when he connected on an 11-yard pitch-and-catch to true freshman tight end Jeff Heuerman. He was intercepted by junior cornerback Travis Howard in the end zone late in the scrimmage.

One of the most impressive things about the QB battle on Saturday was neither quarterback backed down from a challenge. After Miller connected with Fields on the 58-yard TD pass, Bauserman turned around on the ensuing series and hit true freshman receiver Devin Smith on a go route for 54 yards, moving the offense inside the 10.

Fickell was impressed with the competitive nature of both his signal callers.

"From what I've seen so far, they haven't flinched a bit," Fickell said.

The new Buckeyes boss was non-committal about which player would start the season No. 1. The Buckeyes have just two weeks remaining before their first game against Akron on Sept. 3.

The other quarterbacks in the competition — sophomore Ken Guiton and red-shirt freshman Taylor Graham — combined for 51 yards on 7-of-15 passing (unofficially, while splitting reps with the third-team offense.

For the first time in recent memory there was no score kept in the jersey scrimmage. The winner in the past — between the offense and defense — gets the honor of sporting the scarlet colored jerseys in practice.

At a glance, it appeared as if the defense won the scrimmage, as they held the Buckeyes' talented stable of running backs to less than 70 yards on about 30 carries, with no runs crossing the chalk. The defense registered five sacks in the scrimmage — compliments of J.T. Moore, Steve Miller, Mike Bennett, Ryan Shazier and John Simon — and stopped the first-team offense on a fourth-and-inches play near midfield.

Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat — who recorded eight tackles (one for loss), a pass deflection and two QB hurries (unofficially) — said the scrimmage Saturday wasn't about who won or lost, it was about improving as a football team before the season kicks off early next month.

By the veteran linebacker's account, though, the offense may have had the edge on Saturday.

"We didn't keep score today, we just worried about getting better — the offense and the defense," Sweat said. "The offense had quite a few long plays. We didn't really force any turnovers. You may give the upper hand to the offense."

TRUE FRESHMAN STEPPING IT UP ... Braxton Miller wasn't the only true frosh making his presence felt on Saturday, as Heuerman and Shazier were just as impressive.

Heuerman led all receivers in the scrimmage with five receptions, and added 45 yards (unofficially) and a touchdown snag while running against the first- and second-team defenses.

Shazier was perhaps the most dominant player on the field Saturday. The native of Florida registered a game-high nine tackles (unofficially), with a sack and a QB hurry. He displayed incredible instincts on the field and could factor into the Buckeyes rotation at linebacker this fall.

Offensively, Spencer hauled in three receptions for 30 yards and a score, while fellow receiver Smith added two grabs for 58 yards.

Defensively, Bennett and (Steve) Miller each added sacks.

"I think they've done a great job," Sweat said of the freshman. "They are hungry and ready to play. They're flying around and making plays."

RUNNING WOES ... None of the Ohio State running backs made a statement during Saturday's scrimmage.

Junior Jordan Hall ran the most reps with the first-team offense and found the going tough, rushing for just one yard (unofficially) on six totes.

The other backs pushing for playing time also found it difficult to muster any yards.

Sophomore Carlos Hyde rushed for 22 yards on nine carries and red-shirt freshman Rod Smith compiled 19 on seven runs. Dan Herron, who will be suspended for the first five games of the season, rushed seven times for 22 yards on Saturday. Jaamal Berry was inactive due to a minor injury.

The longest gain of the day for a running back was a nine-yard run by Herron.