Braxton Miller’s move to wide receiver changes the complexion of his career, Ohio State’s quarterback race and the Buckeyes’ upcoming season. Here’s a look at what the move will mean for Miller and Ohio State in 2015.
1. This was the best long-term option for Miller. The injury history to Miller’s throwing shoulder (two labrum injuries, both resulting in surgeries) would have made him vulnerable as a starting quarterback. This not only would turn off already skeptical NFL franchises, but also would have made Miller a high-risk pick to be the Buckeyes’ 2015 starter. Miller worked hard to develop as a quarterback, making significant strides under former offensive coordinator Tom Herman. But he was far from a finished product, often struggling to dissect defenses and make multiple reads. As a receiver, Miller has boundless potential. He’ll play a lot at H-Back, the same position that Urban Meyer used dynamic athletes like Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez in the past. (Playing at H-Back, behind the tight end, would give Miller the threat to run the ball on pitches or catch quick-hitting passes on every play.)
Miller has shown strong hands, a natural feel for the position and brings intricate knowledge of the playbook. Coaches also plan to have him return punts, which given his elusiveness in space will make him more of a weapon. Miller has been timed at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would put him in elite company for receivers. Miller looked raw early on, and there will be an adjustment when he’s in pads and figuring out how to beat schemes. But he should find his way on the field quickly and play a lot of snaps. Don’t overlook the fact that Miller is extremely close to Meyer, who is infatuated with Miller’s prospects at the position and wants him to succeed.
2. The most fascinating quarterback race in college football history is now a two-man competition. Fret not, however. The Buckeyes’ quarterback battle remains interesting. Expect the race between redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett and redshirt junior Cardale Jones to go on until just before Ohio State opens the season at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7. The easiest way for the race to play out would be for Jones to win the job and head to the NFL draft after the season. (In an interview with SI.com this spring, Jones didn’t sound like a man who intended to be back in 2016.) That scenario would leave Barrett as the starter for his final two years in Columbus.
But it won’t be that simple. Jones didn’t blow anyone away this spring. He was solid, but certainly did nothing to run away with the job while both Miller and Barrett were sidelined with injuries. Barrett is considered the more reliable player on and off the field, as well as the better leader and more versatile quarterback. Jones has the bigger arm and the valuable experience of winning three of the biggest games in Ohio State history—the Big Ten title game, Sugar Bowl and national championship game—in his three career starts. There are strong arguments to be made for both.
Jones’ biggest obstacle remains his maturity, as Meyer said earlier this spring that he is a “steady work in progress” who “reverts back to a 16-, 17-year old mentality.” Barrett, meanwhile, is so respected that strength coach Mickey Marotti called him one of the top three leaders in the program before he ever took a snap.
The guess here in late July is that Barrett wins out for the same reasons he did last summer—reliability, ball distribution and leadership intangibles. Also, Meyer has always favored a quarterback that’s a threat to stretch the field horizontally with the run. But that’s just a guess. Don’t expect any clarity until early September at the earliest.
3. How good can Miller be as a receiver? This will be one of the biggest questions hanging over the Buckeyes this summer. Miller knows the routes cold from playing quarterback and has already received rave reviews for his natural catching ability. But the receiver position—which Meyer coached earlier in his career at Colorado State and Notre Dame—is filled with nuance. How well can Miller run routes? Will he get alligator arms over the middle? How will he adjust to the physicality of downfield blocking? Those are among the questions that Miller will need to answer in summer camp.
Miller has shown strong work ethic and impressed the Buckeye coaches with the way he has attacked the position change. He and Meyer have had regular voluntary film sessions, and Miller realizes this is his best avenue to a long and lucrative NFL career. Former Kentucky quarterback Randall Cobb, now a star receiver for the Green Bay Packers, is one player he hopes to emulate.
In April, when asked hypothetically about the potential of Miller changing positions, former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman gushed. “I think he would adapt phenomenally if he did switch,” said Herman, now the coach at Houston. “I think he’s a ball handler by nature. You don’t ever know about a kid’s ball handling skills, but come on, that kid could pick up a hockey stick tomorrow and probably be halfway decent at it in two weeks. He’s just a freaky athlete.”
Miller didn’t switch positions to sit on the bench, which means that the competition within the receiving corps just got tougher and more intense. And new Buckeyes play caller Ed Warinner has new toy, one of the best athletes in all of college football to find in space and use to exploit mismatches.