Friday, February 24, 2012

ALL EYES ON MILLER COME SPRING TIME, MUST BECOME MORE VOCAL

Braxton Miller (5)
The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller will be under a microscope once the Buckeyes open spring practice in a little more than a month from now.

Especially from this writer.

During his freshman season in 2011, Miller showed flashes of brilliance, moments of heroism, while other times looking like the epitome of a true freshman. Being that Jim Tressel and the late Joe Daniels were no longer in the building, along with a first time head coach in Luke Fickell and a less than average quarterback coach in Nick Siciliano molding the young Buckeye signal caller, I gave Miller a huge grading curve when evaluating his overall performance as a freshman.

Now that the Buckeyes have Urban Meyer as its new boss and young quarterback coaching guru Tom Herman in the fold to develop Miller this season, we will actually get to see what the native of Huber Heights (OH) will look like with the leash off his neck.

Obviously, Miller will not be a finished product at the beginning of spring practice. In fact, he may look a little behind simply because he is learning an entirely new system, one he's only had about two months to process. Running the new offense with the efficiency of a Peyton Manning isn't what I'm going to be evaluating. 

But there are a few aspects I hope to see improved once the Buckeyes' quarterback hit the practice field in late March ...

VOCAL LEADERSHIP — This is absolutely first and foremost when it comes to Miller's progression. 

Now, I am not advocating that he screams like a banshee, pounds his chest and tugs on face masks, but he simply cannot blend into the bench like he did for most of his freshman season. He has to be the face of the team, and what is it that resides on the face? Yes, the mouth. He has to get inside some ears, communicate with his teammates more profoundly and display beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is THE leader of the Buckeyes.

Quarterbacks cannot be passive by nature. It just doesn't work. Again, not rah, rah ... just vocal.

SPINNING THE FOOTBALL — This was definitely an issue last season with Miller, but one that with a good QB coach can be easily remedied. 

I recall standing on the sideline during pre-game warmups last season and observing the way Miller holds the football. I was only about two yards away from him and was standing with a colleague. I was impressed with his throwing motion, his footwork, but was wondering why his throws weren't spinning crisply. The person I was observing Miller with brought it to my attention that his hand was too far back on the football. 

I had that problem firsthand, and realized that was exactly the issue Miller was having throwing the football. He needs at least the ring and pinky on the laces and preferably the middle as well.

I am hopeful that both Meyer and Herman diagnose the issue before spring practice begins, because a good spin will help not only in distance and velocity, but also with accuracy and efficiency.

JUDGEMENT UNDER PRESSURE AND ON THE RUN — I definitely am not one for hamstringing a guy, especially a player with the elusiveness and mobility of a Braxton Miller. I want to see him run the football, and I'm sure Meyer and Herman do as well.

However, in order to preserve his health, Miller has to be more judicious when on the move and in the pocket. He simply took too many sacks last season, and more importantly, too many hits. The last time I checked, Miller didn't possess the body of a Tim Tebow or Peyton Hillis.

I want to see more Bauserbombs and less sacks when a play breaks down. And I want to see him be more Rickey on the move, meaning that when a linebacker approaches and he can't get by him, be like Rickey Henderson and slide.

MORE VOCAL WITH MEDIA — Okay, I know many of you are thinking, "what on Earth does speaking more vocally with the media have to do with him throwing a football?" 

Well, it doesn't, but it helps with his confidence. And confidence helps with his leadership. And his leadership will mean wins for the Buckeyes.

I remember when I first started covering Ohio State football at the beginning of the 2005 season. Then backup quarterback Troy Smith was kind of shy with the media like Miller is now. But unlike Miller, Smith almost seemed annoyed speaking with the media, as if he was looking at his watch more than in the eyes of the writer interviewing him.

As the season progressed, though, Smith became more open and comfortable with the media and his confidence and leadership on the field became more and more visible. By season's end, he was the undisputed starter and led the Buckeyes to a share of the Big Ten title and a win in the Fiesta Bowl. 

The next season, Smith became the unofficial spokesman for the Buckeyes when it came to the media and it turned into a Heisman Trophy winning campaign. I truly believe that his relationship with the media helped his confidence and that opened the eyes of his teammates.

The prospects for Miller are astronomical. Far more than with Smith. And with perhaps the best football minds in college football mentoring him, Miller's future can become blinding bright.

But ... he must become more vocal. 

It's simply not a choice for the quarterback ... it's a requirement.

Spring practice for Miller and the Buckeyes begin on Wednesday, March 28.

— You can follow Lee Hudnell on Twitter @LeeHudnell_TBT