Braxton Miller showing progress for Buckeyes
CINCINNATI — There wasn't the sizzle of last April, when everything with Urban Meyer was new and flashy, and creating momentum and buzz was priority.
This is and was about sustaining momentum, to a point, but more about taking the next step.
This was spring football, emphasis on football. And emphasis on throwing that football, as in the thing Meyer thinks is most important for his team's development right now.
Ohio State's spring game Saturday was a business trip. Meyer, Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes came to Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium because renovations forced them out of Columbus, and though they made a day of it, Meyer's intent was to make sure Miller might need to ice his throwing shoulder for the trip home.
Meyer wanted something resembling a game as an evaluation point, and the one he got was very forgettable. But it featured Miller — he hit Evan Spencer for 49 yards on the very first play — and a passing game that's coming along. A rule designed to keep Miller healthy and upright prevented a steady pass rush from hitting him and limited maybe the most dangerous part of his game, but the junior to be showed an improved presence in the pocket, and although he still threw a few ducks, he made his share of impressive throws, too.
Officially — at least as official as spring football can be — Miller was 16 of 25 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. He also ran for a touchdown despite not really being allowed to run.
It was a glorified practice. It showed Miller's progress.
"If we can figure out the passing game," Meyer said, "I would be disappointed if we're not the best offense in the Big Ten."
Expectations and goals are high around the program, and for good reason. Meyer was just as quick to point out that if the Buckeyes don't find a right tackle and receivers who play at a consistently high level, this offense won't be the best of anything.
But Miller has plenty of gifts, and spring football at Ohio State was geared around harnessing and polishing them. Miller said he "still (has) some things to fix" but admitted he's getting better "at placing the ball where it needs to be placed" and finding the right targets at the right times.
He needs help from his receivers and his line. If he gets it? The Ohio State offense could be very, very dangerous.
"Guys last year (in the spring) were just going out hoping they could get open," Miller said. "It was a tough transition...to a new offense.
"Where we are now, it's night and day from where we were then."
The running game will be there. Miller was restricted Saturday, and Ohio State's top two running backs — plus senior slot back Jordan Hall — also didn't play. That was by design as much as it was by caution; Meyer said he wanted "a pass-heavy game...because that's an area we need to get better."
On Miller's improvement, Meyer said "fundamentally he's pretty good. He had a couple situations where he went back to his old habits. We can't have that. We have to improve everyone around him."
Ohio State played four 10-minute quarters Saturday, mostly for its young players to get full-speed reps and for the 37,643 in attendance. Miller showed improved zip on the ball, and his best throw was probably a floater to Devin Smith that set up the Scarlet team's third touchdown early in the second half.
Miller's Scarlet team won, 31-14, not that anyone cares or will remember. Unbeaten a year ago under strange circumstances, the Buckeyes face new pressure and new challenges against another weak schedule. Expectations are high for a reason. Thinking of Miller as a Heisman candidate seems reasonable.
He'll be pushed. He'll by surrounded by players who earn their reps. There's a long way to go, for Miller and for this Ohio State team as a whole, but Meyer likes the direction.
As for this team's ceiling, Meyer seems as excited as anyone to find out just how high it is.
"The offense is much different than it was a year ago," Meyer said. "I wish it would have looked better but when you have five or six starters out, that's what you get. As far as grasping concepts and understanding, we're getting there.
"I think we're on track."