Even though he graduated from high school early and enrolled at Ohio State in time for spring practice, quarterback Braxton Miller was supposed to spend a redshirt freshman season under Terrelle Pryor and have time to get acclimated to college football.
It didn’t work out that way.
Because of an NCAA scandal, Pryor bolted for the pros after his junior year instead of serving a five-game suspension, ultimately thrusting Miller into the starting lineup as a pup.
Although he’d like to believe those early experiences accelerated his growth, Miller admits the challenges he faced were sometimes overwhelming.
“Nobody showed me how to be a leader like I should be,” he said.
The Buckeyes finished 6-7, their most losses since 1897, and their passing attack was ranked last in the Big Ten and 115th out of 120 FBS teams nationally.
Asked to pick the most difficult part of the job that year, Miller said, “Just taking snaps in front of all them fans.”
Going into his junior year, though, the Wayne High School product is percolating with confidence. He was named the 2012 Big Ten offensive player of the year after leading the Buckeyes to an undefeated season and spearheading a unit that led the conference in scoring at 37.2 points per game and was third in total yardage at 423.4.
The passing game still needs attention after climbing to only eighth in the conference and 101st nationally, but Miller finished second in the Big Ten and 34th in the nation in total offense (105.9 yards rushing, 169.9 passing). He was 10th and 95th, respectively, as a freshman.
“He’s becoming more vocal,” receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said. “Everyone knows how smart (back-up) Kenny Guiton is and how Kenny can yell out a (defensive) coverage before we even get out of the huddle, but Braxton is starting to get a little Kenny Guiton swag to him as far as pre-snap.
“He’s locating coverages before they’re even getting into them. And as far as getting us into the right play, he’s doing everything perfect so far in the spring. He’s also being more of a leader. When he got here, he was a shy person. If he continues on that track, Braxton is going to have a heckuva season.”
Brown said by the end of last year, the Buckeyes had one of the top-five offenses in nation, which probably isn’t too much of a stretch given how far the running game progressed. They have to replace only right tackle Reid Fragel and third-leading receiver Jake Stoneburner.
“It really does help that we have a lot of veterans coming back, 10 or 11 starters,” tight end Nick Vannett said. “We’re just trying to gel out there. Braxton is doing a lot better with his reads and growing as a quarterback. We’re all growing at our positions.
“Defenses are going to throw some crazy stuff at you with stunts and blitzes, and we’ve just got to be ready,” Vannett added. “We’ve got to know what to do. Braxton is maturing as a quarterback. He knows exactly what to do when he sees something, and our receivers and tight ends are picking it up too.”
The Buckeyes return six of their top seven pass-catchers from last season and will be bolstered by a 2013 recruiting class that includes three blue-chip receivers and a hybrid back in Dontre Wilson of Texas who’s expected to line up all over the field.
But the returning wideouts aren’t threatened by the competition.
“My view is the more the better,” junior Evan Spencer said. “We’re striving to be the best receiver group in the country — point blank, period. The more people we can add to be more explosive and make more plays, hey, I’m all for it.”
OHIO STATE SPRING GAME
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Paul Brown Stadium
TV/Radio: Big Ten Network (7 p.m. tape delay)/none
Tickets: Available through Ticketmaster or at stadium on game day