OSU’s Miller showing growth on and off the field

Ohio State safety Christian Bryant isn’t allowed to hit Braxton Miller in practice, but he’s not sure he’d be able to get a clean shot at the quarterback even if he could.

“He’s one of those guys with crazy athleticism,” Bryant said at the Big Ten media kickoff in Chicago last week. “He’s a quarterback that you just can’t worry about him (only) throwing the ball or running the ball because he can do both. If you stop something, he’s going to be able to get around that.”

Opposing defenses found that out the hard way last season, and they probably shouldn’t get their hopes up for a better outcome the next time they see him. Anyone listening to the OSU contingent at the Big Ten event would have gotten the impression the Buckeyes are getting ready to unleash an even more destructive version of Miller this year.

The Wayne High School product and Springfield native was named the Big Ten offensive player of the year as a sophomore last season, finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and set an OSU record for total offense with 1,271 yards rushing and 2,039 passing.

Coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes will be able to surround him with more talent this season, but they’ll still rely heavily on his play-making skills again.

“He’s dynamic,” Meyer said. “He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever been around — not just in his acceleration, but in planting his foot (and making a cut). I go back to (former Florida star) Percy Harvin. I say he has the best first step I’ve ever seen, and Braxton is in that category. … He’s done some things even in practice where you just shake your head.”

Despite putting up gaudy numbers, though, Miller wasn’t satisfied with his showing last year. He completed only a modest 58.3 percent of his passes, and he figured he could connect at a higher rate with more polished mechanics.

He’s spent the offseason going back to the basics, and he believes it’s paying off.

“I look back at myself last year and say, ‘Dang,’ “ he said with a grimace. “It’s not my arm, it’s my fundamentals. You’ve got to have your legs in the same (direction) as your arm. If you’re not, the ball is going to flutter. It’s going to go the opposite way behind the receiver. Things like that don’t happen when you have the fundamentals.”

Although Miller and his receivers have been working out on their own, Meyer hasn’t seen his QB in action since spring practice. By then, Miller had already made a significant jump from 2012 in his coach’s eyes.

“I would say he was an eight (on a scale of one to 10),” Meyer said. “If he ever reaches the nine level, look out. He will be a special, special player.”

Meyer has always had a tight bond with his quarterbacks. He coached Florida’s Tim Tebow to the Heisman Trophy and helped turn Utah’s Alex Smith into the top pick in the NFL draft.

With Miller, Meyer has been working not only to mold him as a player, but also as a person. And those efforts haven’t been wasted.

Although he’s never had a whiff of trouble off the field, Miller has often appeared uncomfortable in the spotlight and withdrawn around people he doesn’t know. But at the Big Ten function, he seemed confident and at ease with the media, even hugging a couple of beat reporters he hadn’t seen since last spring. Looking dapper in a charcoal suit and tie, he smiled and laughed freely during interviews.

Miller also was accommodating with the public when he and senior tackle Jack Mewhort and Bryant checked out the sights in downtown Chicago.

“We were walking down Michigan Avenue, and I don’t think we could get a block without five people stopping him,” Mewhort said. “He handles it really well. I think he’s matured a lot.”

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior also has become more assertive when needed around his teammates.

“I think he’s been more vocal,” Mewhort said. “He’s embracing being a leader as opposed to sitting in the back and letting things come to him. He’s going out and taking charge and letting guys know his opinion, which is what you want to see.”

Miller was quick to give Meyer credit for helping him become more self-assured.

“He loves his players. He makes sure his players are doing good — on the field and off the field. He just wants the best for everybody,” Miller said.

“He makes sure you have a clean heart, clean soul, clean mind.”

When Meyer was asked about the transformation in Miller, he smiled and said, “He’s come miles.”

The coach added: “I try to talk to him every day, and when we visited the other day, he said, ‘Before you guys got here, I never really understood what you meant by attitude, demeanor, having a passion for life, having a passion for your teammates.’ He said, ‘I get it now.’

“He’s changed a lot as far as his demeanor, as far as his approach to other people and his leadership. What he hasn’t lost — and it’s so neat to say this — is his humble approach. You’re talking about one of the best athletes in America, a Heisman candidate and the player of the year in the Big Ten, and he’s still the same humble guy. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a superstar like that.”

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