|Braxton Miller, left, and Urban Meyer|
COLUMBUS — For a player who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011, and the conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 2012, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller still garners more than his fair share of criticism from the Buckeyes' coaching staff.
Listening to OSU offensive coordinator/QB coach Tom Herman speak about Miller on Thursday, you would think the talented signal caller stunk up the joint for 12 games, running around in circles with his head cut off.
"I would say if he was at a 1 this time last year and a 4 at the end of the season, he's at a 6 right now," Herman said, evaluating Miller's overall game on a scale of 1 to 10.
He was rated as a "4" last season? The same guy who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race, led the Buckeyes to an undefeated season, a Big Ten Leaders Division championship, and did it all while recording a school-record 3,310 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns?
Ok ... so ... Herman doesn't exactly think Miller is a hack. He is simply harder on him than others because he sees what Miller can be if guided properly. Simply said, Herman sees a diamond ... that still has a little bit of coal dust coating its exterior.
"He could be an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10," Herman said. "It's just a matter of the process and the teaching progression has to be at a pace where he can feel good about where he's at. And then take the next step, and get really good at whatever he's working on at that point, and then take the next step and the next step."
Miller has worked diligently on taking those "next steps." Although the Buckeyes lost 15 bowl practices in December because of an NCAA ban, the ultra-talented player out of Huber Heights (OH) hasn't been resting on his laurels this off-season, playing video games and hanging with his buddies.
No, Miller flew to Los Angeles in December — during Christmas break — to work on his fundamentals and passing mechanics with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
Miller said working with Whitfield has given him more of an understanding on the workings of passing the football, and how to correct mistakes.
"I know why a ball sails on me now," Miller said Thursday. "I know what's going on when I throw a bad ball."
Miller said he is far more comfortable this spring than he was a season ago, when he was trying to learn new head coach Urban Meyer's fast paced, high octane system — a scheme far more complex than the one he ran his freshman season under the tutelage of then-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and QB coach Nick Siciliano.
"My consistency is better. I'm better at knowing where my guys are going to be on the field, and I'm not second-guessing myself as much," Miller said. "Last year, I second-guessed myself because I didn't know the plays as well.
"But this year I know the plays better and I'm throwing guys open and things like that."
Meyer stated that he felt Miller played well last season, but wished he hadn't been subjected to that rough 2011 campaign, where he was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman. Meyer said he was impressed with what Miller accomplished that season, but admitted he felt it may have set him back a bit in his progression.
"I thought he did good last year," Meyer said of Miller. "But you wish you didn't have to play him that first year (in 2011). He wasn't ready to play. And he was still Big Ten Freshman of the Year. It tells you how good he is."
Miller pointed out, though, that his freshman season actually was beneficial in many aspects.
"In some ways it was good," Miller said. "Being a young guy, coming in, stepping in, taking the first snap as a freshman. Handling the pressure. Taking the snaps in front of all those fans. It was big."
Miller's expectations coming into the 2013 season — where the Buckeyes are now eligible for postseason play — is astronomical. He has donned the cover of Sports Illustrated — during March Madness — and has been tabbed as a favorite to win the Heisman and lead his team to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship.
But he may need to turn into an "11" for that to happen.
This is something the Buckeyes staff is working hard to cultivate.
"Do we all want him to be an 11 today? Yes, we do. And he would tell you that, too," Herman said. "Because we see it, we know that it's there"
The lofty expectations — by both the coaches and the fans — do not faze the Buckeyes' star signal caller in the slightest.
"I've been hearing it every time I go somewhere, ever since the last game of the season," Miller said. "Finishing 12-0 was big.
"I'll live with the expectation and keep working hard."