COLUMBUS — Braxton Miller spent his first three seasons as the Ohio State football team’s electrifying lead actor.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has his right arm in a sling during their Spring NCAA college football practice Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Now, the quarterback sits perched in the director’s chair.
Swapping roles during his recovery from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, Miller has used the spring to sharpen not his arm but his camera work and dialogue.
As the two-time reigning Big Ten MVP attempts to become a more complete passer and leader, he spends practices outfitted with a sling, a head camera, and a microphone. He stands just behind the quarterback during live drills, goes through the progressions as if he was playing, and later reviews the "Miller Cam" footage with offensive coordinator quarterbacks coach Tom Herman.
"He actually calls a play and tells us what he sees in the secondary," coach Urban Meyer said. "A year ago, his issue was footwork and balance and ball positioning. His issues now are verbal communication and keeping his eyes on the secondary."
If Miller’s absence is a boon for the future — sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett have shared snaps with the first team — it could be a hit to the present.
Miller, who suffered the injury to his throwing shoulder Jan. 3 in the Orange Bowl, will miss 15 spring practices running an offense set to break in at least six new starters.
“If he doesn’t have a good summer, this will cost him a lot," Meyer said. “He will be a very average player."
Yet Meyer believes a step away for Miller now will lead to a stride forward later.
Miller is immersing himself in the Buckeyes’ offense like never before. He returned for his senior season to show he is more than a dazzling athlete with a big arm — more than the scattershot who completed only 51 percent of his passes over the final five games last year. The idea is to become as composed and confident in the pocket as he is instinctive in the open field.
Beyond the video review — which tells Herman what the quarterback sees — Miller is acting as a second quarterbacks coach. After one recent scrimmage, Miller graded the film of Barrett’s performance, giving him a plus or minus for every play.
The player who has always been the most gifted talent on the field is slowly learning, Herman said, to "speak the language like a coach, which was very, very foreign to him." That knowledge will be critical when Miller interviews with NFL teams next season.
"I tell him, ’You don’t want to memorize like you’re memorizing something to take a test tomorrow," Herman said. "You want to know it so that at any given point tomorrow, a week from now I can say, ‘Hey, show me where the Sam [linebacker] goes in Cover 3. And what about Cover 2?’ And boom, just get on the board and go. I think he’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down.”
For the Miller, the real test comes this fall. Say, the first time the pocket begins to crumble. Will Miller take off running at the first hint of pressure? Or will he allow the play to develop, assured by his growing comfort in the offense?
“That’s why there’s a lot of average quarterbacks out there,” Meyer said. “You have to be a tough nut to stand back there, have a pass rush coming at you, and keep your eyes down the field. That’s typical of every quarterback I’ve been around. You have to fight your way through that.”