Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TUESDAY NOTES: FICKELL IMPRESSED WITH MILLER, TWO OTHER FRESHMEN

Braxton Miller
(The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — Now that Ohio State interim head football coach Luke Fickell has had a few days to evaluate new quarterback Braxton Miller and his performance during Saturday's 37-17 win over Colorado, the Buckeyes' boss is not only impressed with his true freshman's play, but also the way he handled such a pressure situation.

"He did a good job," Fickell said of Miller's starting debut, during his media luncheon Tuesday in Columbus. "The No. 1 thing he did was hold onto the football. He made some plays with his feet, settled down, threw some good balls later in the game.

"The ball wasn't coming out of his hands as well as he would have liked or anybody would have liked, which could have been nerves. But he settled down, took some shots, still got up and continued to compete. I think that's the No. 1 most important thing we saw from him, his demeanor, how he competed."

The native of Huber Heights (OH), who had only played sparingly in the Buckeyes' first three games, played more like a seasoned veteran in his debut Saturday against the Buffaloes, instead of an 18-year old kid who less than a year ago was sitting in a high school classroom.

Fickell said he knew Miller had the abilities to succeed, but admitted that you never know how great a young player will be until he's essentially thrown to the wolves.

"I think the more you become involved in doing it, obviously you start to learn a little bit better," Fickell said of Miller. "A lot of these guys like myself are a little bit more 'learn by doing.' Sometimes in practice you think you know it, then you get in the game and realize 'Wow!'

"I think he's done a good job. He's going to continue to do a good job. It's on us to make sure we can only put the things in his hands that we think he can handle."

The biggest concern for Miller following Saturday's win was the many hits the young signal caller took because of his desire to run the ball so frequently. Miller finished the game with 166 yards of offense and two touchdown passes. He rushed for 83 yards on an eye-opening 17 carries.

Fickell said he would like Miller to use good judgement when running with the football — i.e., slide, run out of bounds, etc. — but admits that it will be difficult for him to bail on a play being such a gritty competitor.

"That's a difficult situation," Fickell said. "You just got to talk and talk and talk to him about it. We say it all the time, I don't know about you, but if you're a competitor, sometimes those things are harder to learn. You go out there and play a pickup basketball game. All of a sudden you come off the floor with cuts, scrapes and bruises. Those are things that aren't the easiest things to teach.

"But you know what, I'd rather have the guy that's a competitor when you're worried about playing a pickup basketball game because you know he only does things at one speed. When he gets out there, he's going to be competitive. Obviously, we're going to have to try to help him through those things, coach him through those things.

"I'd rather have it that way than a guy who's the other way."

HALL MAKING AMENDS ... Ohio State junior tailback Jordan Hall, who was suspended the first two games of the season for receiving improper benefits, was named as a captain for this weekend's game against Michigan State.

Hall has been outstanding in his first two appearances of the season, rushing for 171 yards on 32 carries (5.3 avg.) and a touchdown. He's also sparked the Buckeyes' return game with 179 yards, including a kickoff return of 90 in the win against Colorado.

But Fickell said Tuesday that Hall's play isn't the reason he has been named a captain. It's about how he's handled all the adversity along the way that's garnered him the team honor.

"He's a big leader in the locker room," Fickell said of Hall. "He does a great job. He does everything we've asked him to and he handles it with class and dignity. He has not batted an eye at it with all the situations."

Fickell said it's about learning from mistakes.

"We understand we learn from our mistakes, but we're not going to throw guys away," Fickell said. "That's kind of the reason we wanted to have the game captains the whole season, so we could make sure we could bring everybody to be part of this team no matter what the situation. They learn from it, grow from it, have the right attitude, they continue to get better.

"In situations like this, hey, we're excited to have him. The past is the past and we learned from it."

Seniors defensive backs Nate Oliver and Nate Ebner were also named captains for Saturday's game against the Spartans.

A COUPLE MORE TRUE FRESHMEN STANDING OUT ... Miller isn't the only true freshman making his presence felt going into Big Ten play, as the Buckeyes have two more newbies who are becoming increasingly difficult to keep off the playing field.

Wide receiver Devin Smith and linebacker Ryan Shazier have been solid additions thus far in 2011, and are looking to get even more playing time as the season begins to heat up.

Smith — in limited action this year — has displayed his incredible pass catching and route running abilities, hauling in a team-best 183 yards on eight receptions (T-1st) and three touchdowns. Last week against Colorado, Smith was on the receiving end of two Miller touchdown tosses. The duo also hooked up for a 15-yard scoring strike in the season opener against Akron.

Fickell said Smith is a special player who will see more time as the season moves forward.

"We continue to move Devin along," Fickell said. "I think he might have only had 27 to 30 snaps last week. As he grows and he matures, he'll get more and more.

"Devin can make plays. He's a guy that can get on top of you, he has some speed. Obviously good balls were thrown to him and he made the plays. We need that. We know people are going to pack it in on us with a lot of run stuff. We need the wide receivers out there to have the ability to make plays, especially when people are going to get up on them."

Shazier has also caught the coach's attention by registering 11 tackles (3 for loss), a sack and a forced fumble — also in limited work.

"Ryan has done a great job," Fickell said. "Ryan I think played 27, 28 snaps last week in the game, in situations when the game was obviously (still in doubt). He's done a great job, he's done a great job special teams wise. He's going to be a very, very good football player. He's got a knack for the ball. He can run. We can get some special things out of him."

INJURY UPDATE ... Fickell said that defensive end Nathan Williams and wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown's status for Saturday's game is still unknown, stating Wednesday may be the earliest the team will know anything on the two players availability.