COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was optimism at seemingly every turn.
Braxton Miller pronounced himself 100 percent healthy whenever he was asked over the past two months. Urban Meyer expressed some concern about the volume of his reps, but he never indicated anything was off the schedule the Ohio State coach and his staff had set out for the star quarterback. Even in the hours leading up to a practice that the Buckeyes considered critical in gauging Miller’s rehab, there were no indications from offensive coordinator Tom Herman that anything was wrong.
And although it might be tempting to suggest that Ohio State rushed Miller back and put him in danger of reinjuring his surgically repaired shoulder or to think maybe the Buckeyes knew all along he was more seriously hurt than they let on, there’s nothing to suggest that everybody involved wasn’t doing all he could to have him on track to start on Aug. 30 at Navy.
Fluke injuries happen, and there doesn’t seem to be anything the Buckeyes could have done to prevent the devastating one that struck Miller on Monday and ended his season.
“It’s just the muscle,” Miller had said after the first workout of the two-a-day session, hours before leaving the practice field under the supervision of trainers. “It’s just getting it back, that little muscle around the surgery that I wasn’t using after I had the sling and stuff. Now that I’m back using it on an everyday basis, it just gets sore.
“I was throwing full-go every other day in the summer, so right now it’s practice every day. I can’t throw every day and just blow it out, then it’s sore for the next three days. We’ve just got to take it slow.”
The Buckeyes tried to do that every step of the way after Miller went under the knife in February.
He was held out entirely of spring practice, but Herman adjusted by doubling down on mental reps by attaching a camera and microphone to Miller’s hat and having him call out protections, coverages and reads with where to deliver the football.
He was supposed to ease his way back into throwing a football during the offseason, but the progress was considered so encouraging that Miller breezed through a step that called for him to throw tennis balls in one day, impressing the training staff with his rapid recovery.
By the time Big Ten media days arrived in late July, nobody representing Ohio State, including Miller himself, thought he would miss any time.
But when training camp did arrive, despite all the optimism and repeated mentions of Miller's rehabilitation schedule, there were at least a couple of subtle signs that maybe everything wasn’t as rosy as the Buckeyes were indicating. They never made the exact details of the plan public, but Miller was limited to throwing every other day during the opening weeks of camp. He was always supposed to be limited to largely observing both scrimmages, but his absence still set off alarm bells as the start of the season crept closer without Miller showing he was as healthy on a daily basis as he had claimed to be.
The admission of soreness and Herman’s confirmation on Monday that there was a minor setback added fuel to the fire that everything wasn’t necessarily in full working order, but Ohio State still had no reason to question its approach to getting him back on the field.
“It’s hard for me to speculate,” Herman said after Monday morning's practice. “He is where he is right now not because the shoulder is injured but because the fatigue of multiple practices, practices day after day after day, 50, 60, 70 balls being thrown. The thing is going to get tired. The muscles aren’t ready for that, and we’ve got to continue to build him up.
“I think it’s too early to have that concern [of missing a game]. I think the trainers are optimistic, everything is on schedule. He had a little bit of a setback with some additional soreness that we weren’t expecting, but I’m not ready to say 'concerned' is the right word. Not yet.”
That final caveat was ominous, and Ohio State’s worst fears would soon be realized in the afternoon practice.
Maybe Miller was always going to miss some time and the Buckeyes weren’t prepared to admit it. Or, perhaps more likely, Miller, Meyer, Herman and an experienced training staff were all right when they evaluated his progress on the road back from February.
But either way, it doesn’t matter now. It’s safe to assume that Ohio State did everything it could to get Miller ready for this season, but now it’s over before it even began.