COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After years of getting an earful in the huddle from all the wide-open receivers he allegedly overlooked, the roles have been reversed.
Now Braxton Miller is willing to concede that maybe those guys had a point when they complained to their quarterback that the ball should have come their way. And in the surest sign yet that his transition to wideout is complete, the Ohio State senior also admitted that he’s already done it himself.
“Yep, I did,” Miller said. “I caught myself and I was like, ‘Dang, I used to go through the same situation.’
“Now I see why.”
The Buckeyes actually don’t mind Miller pointing it out, because they’re still trying to ramp up his touches and opportunities to show his explosiveness now that he’s midway through his first season at the position.
Coach Urban Meyer has made his desire to have the freakishly athletic ball carrier more involved in the attack well known seemingly every week, at one point detailing a checklist of plays he wanted to run and, a couple of weeks ago, jokingly asking the media for suggestions.
The continued emphasis paid off last week against Maryland, with Miller making some dazzling catches on his way to five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He added three carries for 11 yards and also took some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback to get closer to the type of productive, versatile performance Meyer envisioned when the position switch was made. Meyer has also made it clear that it’s just fine with him if Miller feels the need to voice his opinion about his role in the offense -- and not just on the field with the quarterback.
“Every good, quality player wants the football, and we don't discourage that,” Meyer said. “That goes back to my days in 1986 when Cris Carter was playing receiver, and he wanted the ball. What did [Earle] Bruce do? Gave him the ball. We don't look at that as a negative. Now if it becomes a social-media fiasco or something selfish where it's getting in the way of production, then [that’s a problem].
"But when me and Braxton have conversations, it's about how do we get him the ball and make sure he's fundamentally sound to do it. ... The appropriate way is not to have your uncle call me or to tell [the media]. But I hope there is enough respect in a relationship with guys like Braxton Miller and the players we have that we are trying to get the guys that deserve it the ball.”
Miller has proved repeatedly throughout his career that few players are any better at doing something with the football when it’s in their hands, and the Buckeyes are making every effort they can within the framework of the system to get it there.
He has lined up in the slot as an H-back, taken handoffs in the backfield, shifted in motion to receive short pop passes, worked through traditional routes deep down the field and has a package of Wildcat plays installed as well, all designed to take advantage of Miller's acceleration, juking ability and top-end speed. But Ohio State has also run into some problems at times when it tries too hard to force the issue with him, and it has taken time for both the coaching staff and Miller to adjust to the fact that he simply can’t touch the football on every snap anymore.
“It was kind of hard at first,” Miller said. “But once you get used to it, it goes with the flow of the game. There are situations in the game I look forward to, and sometimes things get unraveled and it doesn’t happen. You just have to play for the next play, see what happens and then go from there.
“I always want the ball and expect the best, but [the key is] just doing your job. ... We talk about that all the time.”
Some of the conversations sound exactly the same as the ones Miller used to have as a quarterback. But now he’s the one doing the talking.