As Braxton Miller went through the opening Ohio State spring practice last week, and tight spiral passes were flying out of his right hand, headed usually toward the intended target, Tom Herman did a mental check mark.
“It was little bit of sigh of relief, it was that, ‘OK, we’ve got something to work with here,’ ” the Buckeyes’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach said.
He had never seen Miller throw in person. He knew that coach Urban Meyer had gushed about Miller’s abilities even as he was being introduced as the coach on Nov. 28, and Herman had met with Miller many times during the winter getting to know him.
But Wednesday was the first time that Herman could stand near a helmet-wearing Miller on the field as he uncorked throws.
“Certainly didn’t walk in to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely there was a sigh of relief saying, ‘OK, the ability level is there. It’s my job — it’s our job to make sure we harness that ability,’ ” Herman said.
The Buckeyes went through their third practice of the spring Saturday. The media wasn’t allowed to watch, but the reports from Herman, Miller and others is that the transition to an up-tempo, spread offense is still in its infancy for all, including the quarterback.
“What I really want to improve is knowing where everybody’s at, where everybody’s going,” Miller said.
That should come with time, Herman said, but learning the new offense isn’t the only thing the coaches expect from Miller as he heads toward his second season as the starter. Quarterback means team leader in the vernacular of Meyer and Herman.
“I’m sure I’m biased, having made a living in this sport, but I don’t think there is a more-important position in organized sports,” Herman said.
There is the point guard in basketball, he said, but he’s just directing four other players, and there is the starting pitcher in baseball, he said, but he’s playing only every fifth game or so.
“The quarterback on a football team has to lead 10 guys, and offensive football may be the most-dependent area of all organized sports, because 10 guys can do their job perfectly and one guy cannot, and you have an unsuccessful play,” Herman said. “That guy who has the ball in his hands on every single snap has to be the go-to guy.”
Miller understands that as a sophomore, he must bear more weight.
“I feel heavier,” Miller said. “I’ve got my first year under me, and I just want to keep working hard, progressing. Every time you step in the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center], you’ve got to take charge of your team, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
As an 18-year-old first-year starter walking among some 22- and 23-year-olds last season, he found that wasn’t easy.
“I’m getting a little vocal with that, and since my first year has gone past, I’m getting better, communicating better with the team,” Miller said.
But Herman said there is no such thing as snapping one’s fingers and becoming a leader.
“He’s getting better every day. Still got a long way to go,” Herman said. “Braxton is the kind of kid who has always been able to lead by example. And he’s got a great work ethic. He likes to learn, he likes to study.”
With that said, every player’s personality is different. Miller said he was raised by his father, Kevin, to be humble about success, whether it’s subdued or no celebrations in the end zone after a score or how he speaks about himself and his abilities.
“Now it’s getting that quietness maybe out of him and getting him more vocal as a leader,” Herman said.
To do that, though, Miller “has to get his house in order,” Herman said, referring primarily to mastering the offense and becoming more proficient in footwork and technique. “Before he goes and criticizes someone else, he better make sure everything he’s doing is right.
“And right now on the field, he makes mistakes just like everybody else in a brand-new system, Day 3 of spring practice. The faster we can accelerate that process of him really understanding the entire offense, getting his house in order, so to speak, then he can start being more that vocal leader.”