Ohio State Buckeyes: Tom Herman

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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Wishing you a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. Barring breaking news -- fingers crossed -- we'll be back with you bright and early Tuesday.

Follow the Twitter brick road.

Mail call ...

Rajiv from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Do you think that there are any programs in the B1G that would automatically get or deserve a spot in the playoff if they ran the table in any given year? Secondly, suppose a team like Northwestern or Minnesota ran the table and then beat a 12-0 Michigan State team in the BIG Championship. Should one of those teams get an automatic bid? Don't think that situation would happen, but certainly an undefeated Ohio State would garner more recognition than Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg: Rajiv, it's my belief that any major-conference team that runs the table and wins a league title game to go 13-0 would make the field of four. Why else would you expand the field from two to four? Most Big Ten teams are playing at least one marquee non-league opponent, so even if their league schedule is a little soft like Iowa's or Wisconsin's this year, a perfect mark would be enough to get them in, regardless of their reputation. It would be incredibly disappointing if the committee functions like poll voters and gives preferences to historically strong teams. There would have to be odd circumstances -- two or more undefeated teams from major conferences -- for a 13-0 Big Ten team to be left out.




 
Jason from Tampa writes: What are your thoughts around Penn State and its stance on the Paterno lawsuit? On one hand, Penn State is a defendant in the lawsuit, has made great strides, and a majority of the severe sanctions are behind them. On the other hand, Penn State might get temporary or full relief of all sanctions. Do you believe their stance is a calculated move to avoid bad publicity and not disrupt the relationship with the NCAA in regards to further sanction reductions?

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I think your first point about Penn State making strides and moving past some of the more severe sanctions is a motivator for the school's position. There's no full relief from the sanctions, since Penn State has had two bowl-eligible teams stay home and continues to operate with reduced scholarships. But the school clearly feels that cooperation with the NCAA is the best route. Penn State also has aligned itself with the Freeh Report, which the Paterno family claims isn't credible. Ultimately, PSU seems too far down the road in lockstep with the NCAA to dramatically change its position.



 

Paul from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I heard Ed Cunningham say on "College Football Live" that from what he observed in the Big Ten last year that the QB play is very poor compared to other conferences. My question(s) to you is: 1) Do you really believe the QB play is that bad in the conference? 2) Who are the QBs in the BIG that could go and start for other major college football programs in other conferences? (You can pull names from last year as well).

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, quarterback play in the Big Ten has been down for some time. The league hasn't had a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995. That's stunning. Although quarterbacks such as Drew Brees (Purdue), Tom Brady (Michigan) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) have gone on to win Super Bowls, the league isn't mass-producing elite signal-callers. Something needs to shift, and it could be the quality of quarterback coaches in the Big Ten. Besides Indiana's Kevin Wilson, are there any true QB gurus in the B1G?

Your second question is a bit tricky because there are some major-conference teams elsewhere with dire QB situations. But Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg could start for any FBS squad.



 

Moss from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The Big Ten is starting to resemble a very wealthy yet dysfunctional family. Consumed by more wealth and shiny toys but not paying attention to their children (teams) as they grossly underperform. Is the BIG more interested in the brand than the actual product? The conference has all the advantages but can't seem to get its proverbial act together.

Adam Rittenberg: Moss, it just doesn't seem to add up. A league should be able to build its brand, generate revenue for its schools and win championships on the field. What do you mean by not paying attention? What do you want the Big Ten to do for its underperforming teams? That's the hard part. Commissioner Jim Delany gets criticized a lot, but he has significantly increased the resources for Big Ten programs, which can pay coaches more and invest in their facilities. Ultimately, the Big Ten can move its campuses to the south and west, where more of the elite players are. But I don't agree the league is neglecting its programs by trying to expand its brand.



 

@roberthendricks via Twitter writes: Do you think OSU has a long-term solution going forward in J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones or Stephen Collier? I know taking a hot QB in this class is essential, but what if they don't? Post-Braxton fear is setting in.

Adam Rittenberg: That fear is real, Robert, as Ohio State's quarterback situation beyond 2014 seems cloudy. Miller's injury this spring allowed Jones and Barrett both to get some significant work in practice. While both struggled in the spring game, Jones enters the summer as Miller's primary backup. Ohio State would be wise to get at least one, if not both, into games this season, even in mop-up time. Collier seems like more of a project, and all three men need some time to develop. I don't think it's realistic to expect Ohio State's next quarterback to match Miller's big-play ability.
The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Can multiple Buckeyes get involved in the passing game?

Ohio State finally lived up to its seemingly annual pledge to get the tight end position involved in the passing game. The next step is getting more than one of them rolling as a target to really expand the arsenal of an offense that can clearly create mismatches with size, strength and reliability in its impressive collection of athletes.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMITE Jeff Heuerman emerged as a weapon for the Buckeyes last season, and he could be even better this fall.
Jeff Heuerman finished third on the team in receptions last season, breaking out with 26 grabs for 466 yards and four touchdowns in a campaign that still might have only scratched the surface of his ability. And while Nick Vannett was a factor in different ways and chipped in eight receptions himself, the second option at tight end also seemed slightly underused at times considering how closely his skills match up with Heuerman's and the faith the coaching staff has in him as well.

Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have both made it well known how much they value a versatile chess piece at tight end, a player who can line up all over the field and wreak havoc on defenses by creating mismatches in both the passing and rushing games. And the threat of Heuerman and Vannett as receivers combined with their above average blocking has surely helped tip the scales for the dynamic ground game over the past two seasons.

But as the spread offense continues evolving under Meyer, there's no doubt he'd like to see more passes flying at his tight ends, particularly after getting a couple glimpses at the explosiveness Heuerman can provide down the field with outings like his 116-yard performance against Purdue and with a 57-yard touchdown catch against Clemson.

And while Vannett is unlikely to evenly match the production of Heuerman, unleashing the two at the same time can create all kinds of problems for a defense that must account for a pair of players who stand taller than 6-foot-5 and can stretch the field with their legs while at the same time providing Ohio State the flexibility to shift to a power formation depending on the personnel lining up against them. That may require getting Vannett a few more touches than the 17 he's had over the past two years to keep a defense honest, and Heuerman could no doubt use a couple more also.

The Buckeyes might even throw redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh into that mix, giving them three big guys with speed to make them even harder to defend at tight end. But they laid the foundation by establishing one of those Buckeyes as a legitimate, consistent threat a year ago -- and if they can do the same with a second, an already dangerous offense will hit an even higher level.

Ohio State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
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Spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall from Ohio State.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The rebuilding job in the secondary is progressing: The spring game didn’t leave all that much to truly evaluate, but in workouts leading up to it, the Buckeyes showed their dedication to becoming more aggressive defending the pass by playing virtually every snap in press coverage. Led by senior cornerback Doran Grant, there’s enough talent on hand to play that style.
  • The spread has its hybrid weapon: The inevitable comparisons with Percy Harvin might still be premature, but Urban Meyer does appear to have somebody he believes can fill that vaunted role in his offense. Dontre Wilson’s shift to becoming a full-time receiver with occasional appearances as a rusher produced a prolific camp and raised the bar for him after largely playing a decoy role as a freshman.
  • The defensive line is loaded: There surely isn’t a deeper, more athletic defensive line in the Big Ten than what the Buckeyes are bringing back, and Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett might have a case to be considered among the nation’s most terrifying starting units. The quartet was so disruptive during spring practice, Meyer held them out of the spring game to help ensure there might be something to evaluate on offense.
Three questions for the fall

  • How far has Braxton Miller come mentally?: The two-time defending Big Ten player of the year had nothing to prove physically, so the shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practice wasn’t that big of a deal. If anything, it might be a blessing that he used all the extra mental reps to take his game to a higher level in terms of reading defenses and making better decisions.
  • Will the offensive line come together?: Meyer only named two starters coming out of spring, and considering he had four established seniors in the lineup at this time a year ago, that level of uncertainty is no doubt a bit uncomfortable for the Buckeyes. Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein offer a nice foundation, but Ohio State needs to settle on three more regulars quickly to develop some chemistry.
  • Is Darron Lee ready for the big time?: After emerging as a surprising starter on the first day of camp, the converted high school quarterback kept that job at linebacker all the way until the end of spring. The sophomore has no shortage of athleticism and has filled out to 225 pounds, but he’ll have big shoes to fill for a unit that must replace all the production Ryan Shazier left behind.
One way-too-early prediction

The rise of Tom Herman’s star in the coaching profession is not exactly a secret, but after one more prolific season guiding the Ohio State offense, he’ll be off to lead his own team. Herman has the personality to be the face of a program, and his thirst for knowledge and ability to learn under Meyer for three years will make him an ideal candidate for a major program with an opening next winter.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ezekiel Elliott never has to go too far to be reminded of the tradition he's hoping to uphold.

Inside the Ohio State running backs meeting room are pictures of legends like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"I'm very aware," Elliott said. "Every day, [running backs] coach [Stan] Drayton reminds us. When you see those guys every day, you know you have to continue the legacy."

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Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott is hoping his versatility will make him Ohio State's primary ball-carrier in 2014.
Elliott doesn't even have to think back that far in history to know what he's trying to replace. Last year, Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, finishing with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns despite serving a three-game suspension to start the year.

Hyde's departure leaves a seemingly gaping hole in the Ohio State backfield. Elliott, a sophomore, will get the first crack at filling it.

He ran 30 times for 262 yards last year, with most of that production coming in a 162-yard performance in mop-up duty against Florida A&M. There’s certainly a difference carrying the ball against an overmatched opponent like the Rattlers and doing it in the heart of Big Ten play, but Elliott says that brief experience as a true freshman was beneficial.

"Getting out there and playing helped a lot, just getting those jitters out," he said. "Hopefully this year, I'll be ready to go.

"I think I've improved a lot. I've gotten a lot bigger, I'm faster and I anticipate the game a lot better."

Urban Meyer has stopped short of anointing Elliott as the heir to Hyde, but Elliott practiced with the first unit almost the entire spring. He had only three carries in last week's spring game, as the Buckeyes know by now what they've got with him. Senior Rod Smith, who missed spring practice because of academics, and sophomores Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn also are in the mix for carries. Midyear enrollee Curtis Samuel also impressed the coaches this spring.

Still, it's pretty clear the Buckeyes see Elliott as the starter in 2014. Elliott has the pedigree; ESPN Recruiting ranked him the No. 11 running back in the Class of 2013 after he piled up 3,061 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns as a high school senior in St. Louis. He also won three Missouri state track and field titles.

"He probably has some of the best quick-hip explosion of anybody on the team," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "You see it in his pass protection. You see it in his quick, sudden burst cuts. He has good vision, and he's a great team guy who just wants to win and go hard. There's a lot to like."

There's more of Elliott to like this season, too. Last year, he played between 210 and 215 pounds. This spring, he said, he weighs about 225 pounds. He doesn't look as thickly built as Hyde, who was listed at 236, but he still packs some power in his carries.

"He's a very strong runner," Herman said. "On a scale of 1-to-10, if Hyde is a 10, then he's an 8.59. He's not there, but he's still pretty darn good when it comes to running between the tackles, putting his shoulder down and making the tough two-, three- and four-yard runs."

Elliott, however, won't have the veteran offensive line that Hyde enjoyed running behind the past two seasons. Only one starter -- tackle Taylor Decker -- returns from last year's unit, and the Buckeyes spent this spring trying to find the right combination up front. That remains a concern heading into the summer, but Ohio State remains dedicated to establishing a physical ground attack.

"We're never going to abandon our core principles and tenants and beliefs offensively in terms of being a downhill, A-gap, tight zone and power running team," Herman said. "Now, will we need to get the ball to the perimeter a little more to take the heat off the guys up front? Probably."

That's another reason the Buckeyes like Elliott. He can get those tough yards in between the tackles, but he's also got the speed to do more than just that, as evidenced by his 8.7 yards-per-carry average in limited duty last season.

"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "So think it helps a lot that I'm versatile."

Elliott will need every tool at his disposal to live up to the standards set by some of his Ohio State predecessors. Good thing he's got a lot of them.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The kitchen is still stocked with enough ingredients to make another delicious offensive meal, but the main dish probably won’t be beef again.

With four senior starters gone from the line and bullish running back Carlos Hyde headed to the NFL, Ohio State is going to have to make some changes to its high-scoring recipe after rewriting the record books thanks in large part to all the meat it had in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State's offensive line will be revamped in 2014, with tackle Taylor Decker as the only returning starter.
And while that doesn’t mean Urban Meyer or coordinator Tom Herman will be abandoning the power rushing attack that has been the calling card of their version of the spread attack in favor of a more finesse approach, some of its finest ingredients are now on the perimeter, potentially giving the Buckeyes a new look when they’re done experimenting this spring.

“As bad as we want an offensive line like last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and with our line coach [Ed Warinner], that will happen. But no, it’s going to be different.

“We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that. Last year [it] was rushing for 300-plus yards per game. It’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will be a little different taste to it than last year.”

Braxton Miller will still provide the most flavor heading into his senior year at quarterback, but there will be plenty of fresh faces around him as the Buckeyes transition from the veterans who helped pile up points over the last couple seasons to the younger talent Meyer has recruited since taking over the program.

The loss of the core group of linemen is certainly a blow, though Ohio State has prepared for it by working the replacements into games and getting them extra practice work last fall. Filling the void left by the workhorse Hyde might seem like a tall order as well, but the Buckeyes have as many as five candidates they have confidence in to carry the load on the ground in his absence. There’s also the matter of replacing leading receiver Philly Brown, a versatile athlete who supplemented his 63 receptions with a handful of rushing attempts in a hybrid role.

But if there aren’t experienced seniors ready to step up on the line, the Buckeyes at least have returning starter Taylor Decker around to bridge last season to the future at left tackle. Hyde’s production and consistency made him one of the nation’s best tailbacks and a potential first-round draft pick, but Ezekiel Elliott shined in his limited opportunities and senior Rod Smith has never had his physical tools questioned. Dontre Wilson is more than capable of taking over Brown’s role now that he has had a chance to grasp the responsibilities of the H-back position and improved his hands enough to be considered a full-time receiver.

Meyer has suggested that using Wilson and athletes like Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel on bubble screens or jet sweeps to get to the edge might be the best way to adapt while the offensive line develops, and he’s certainly been recruiting enough speed to perhaps more truly spread the field than the Buckeyes have done in his first two seasons. And as successful as they've been anyway, that different taste might not go down easily for opposing defenses.

“We’ll never leave our core values,” Herman said. “Spread the field horizontally and vertically, be in the shotgun, add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap, tight-zone, vertical, power-run team with vertical play-action pass off it. What does that evolve to? I don’t know.

“But I think when people ask me maybe what I’m most proud of the first couple years here is we didn’t fit a square peg into a round hole. ... You've got to figure out what everybody can do, what they do well and try to mask the deficiencies while you’re improving them yet play to the strengths. Where that’s headed after six spring practices, I have no idea. But it will be different.”

The Buckeyes still have plenty of time to tinker, and the cupboards are far from bare.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing has changed.

But to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, that might actually be a sign of progress.

With the top quarterback on the shelf and their veteran, reliable backup no longer with the program, the Buckeyes have had plenty of time and attention to devote to the battle to replace Kenny Guiton behind entrenched starter Braxton Miller. And with Cardale Jones in the same spot with the first-string offense after six practices that he occupied when spring camp opened, the lack of news Herman has had to report is actually good news for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones is getting valuable experience with the first team during spring with Braxton Miller sidelined.
“I think it’s telling that through six practices Cardale Jones is still getting the majority of reps with the ones,” Herman said after practice on Tuesday. “To say that he’s head and shoulders [ahead] or taking a step forward, I don’t know that it would be accurate. But he hasn’t done anything to not deserve to take those reps.

“He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should.”

There’s still no question who the starting quarterback at Ohio State will be in the fall, but Miller’s shoulder surgery and subsequent rehabilitation during March and April has come with a silver lining as the coaching staff evaluates candidates for the crucial relief role Guiton filled so admirably over the last two seasons.

For all his considerable talent and eye-popping production, Miller has been forced to the sideline in a handful of games with minor health issues during his career and also missed three weeks due to a knee injury last fall, with Guiton seamlessly taking the reins every time he was needed. But regardless of how much Jones or J.T. Barrett might be called upon in the fall, the Buckeyes are taking full advantage of the extra work both are getting now to try to get them ready for more than a backup role down the road with Miller heading into his final season.

“I tell those two guys a lot of the time, just be you,” Herman said. “Their strengths are so different. I tell J.T., you get paid a scholarship to make great decisions, to get the ball out of your hands and be accurate. You’re not going to grow, your arm, this year, is not going to get a whole lot stronger. ... So be on time, be accurate and be right with what you do with the football.

“Cardale, your strengths are different as well. Cardale is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall. Use some of that, use the talents that you have and then while we develop the portions of your game that need to be developed, we’ll do that.”

For Jones, that process appears largely focused on the redshirt sophomore's accuracy, particularly after scattering throws off target during parts of a scrimmage on Saturday.

But his combination of speed and size makes him an intriguing option as a rusher at quarterback, though certainly in a different way than the elusive, electric Miller. And there’s no question about his arm strength, which has previously been on display during open practices and has produced a handful of explosive plays down the field thanks to his ability to deliver the deep ball.

So, after throwing out maybe one rocky performance among six thus far, those positives outweigh any negatives and leave Jones in the same solid position to contribute to the Buckeyes that he was in when camp opened.

“That was just a ‘this is my first scrimmage on a winner-loser day as the quarterback with the first offense at the Ohio State University and I’m nervous as hell’ thing,” Herman said. “What he showed me on Saturday was not indicative of the previous four practices or [Tuesday’s] practice. So we’ve got to make sure they don’t get so worked up on a Saturday scrimmage because it’s winner-loser day and all their fundamentals and technique and knowledge go out the window.

“Cardale has done a great job. He has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now.”

A healthy Miller would change that equation, of course. But for now, Herman has nothing new to report and seemingly no reason to complain.

Early OSU observations: No. 5

March, 10, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking the week off for spring break give you a peek at some new faces and a couple of changes. While the Buckeyes are gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 5: Quarterbacks under the microscope

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones will audition for Ohio State's backup QB job this spring.
The video feed coming from the camera on Braxton Miller’s head might not make for perfect viewing, but the Ohio State senior’s running commentary breaking down coverages and where to deliver the football certainly makes up for the lack of entertainment value. It also drives home the lengths the coaching staff will go to maximize the talent of its quarterbacks, even when they can’t throw a football due to offseason shoulder surgery.

And while Miller’s ongoing education figures to have the most significant impact for Ohio State’s title chances, the last two seasons have provided plenty of evidence that having a steady backup is just as critical -- and monitoring that job is just as labor-intensive for quarterbacks coach Tom Herman.

Fortunately for Herman, Miller’s injury provided something of a blessing in disguise by freeing up reps for Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett to audition for the No. 2 spot, and after the first week there doesn’t appear to be any change in the pecking order. Jones has been around the program longer, and that experience and his impressive natural skills have given him the edge over Barrett, whose intelligence and accuracy are big assets.

There’s still plenty of time for something to change, and Jones and Barrett will have no shortage of opportunities to build their case for the role Kenny Guiton filled so admirably over the past two seasons. But at this point, Jones is making the most of his chances to lead the first-team offense when Miller is not around, which could be invaluable if that situation pops up again when it matters.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
12:00
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How 'bout Nebrasketball? Impressed with what's happening in Lincoln.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Whether Braxton Miller was healthy enough to throw a football or not, the first few entries on the spring checklist didn’t require him to do it.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsOhio State QB Braxton Miller will work on the mental side of football this spring.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman rattled off the priorities a few days before Miller underwent minor surgery on his throwing shoulder last month. And while there might still be mechanical improvements to be made with his star quarterback, they were almost an afterthought as the two set the course for his last season with the program.

Herman stressed even more dedication to film study. He wanted Miller to know opposing defenses inside and out and be ready to diagram them on the whiteboard whenever he might be prompted to do so. The Buckeyes expect the spread offense to be second nature to him heading into his third season operating the system. Miller tacked one more thing on himself, making it clear that he anticipated becoming a better leader than he has been.

Nothing on this list requires Miller to actually toss a football. So it shouldn’t really matter that he’s expected to be limited physically when camp opens for Ohio State on Tuesday.

“I think probably as improved as he got in the mental side of playing quarterback [in 2013], he still can get a whole lot better,” Herman said. “He can probably make that same leap this year and still have work to do.

“Just the constant studying of the game, studying of defenses and the studying of our plays now that we’ve kind of done the same thing for two years in a row. ... I think he’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down, and he needs to stay on that path.”

Miller has largely made the journey look pretty easy over the past couple pf seasons, steadily improving his numbers, piling up victories and collecting enough individual trophies to fill several mantles in his parents’ house. But for all of his personal success and the 24-game winning streak the Buckeyes put together following the arrival of coach Urban Meyer, there have also been a handful of moments that Herman can point to as evidence that Miller isn’t a finished product yet.

He doesn’t have to go back too far to find tapes to drive the point home. There were a pair of uneven outings in Ohio State’s losses in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and the Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson, performances where Miller alternated between his trademark brilliance and moments of indecision or uncertainty that proved costly.

The key for Herman, though, is that those losses weren't because Miller didn’t possess the fundamentals to take his game to a higher level as a passer. The Buckeyes emphasized fine-tuning Miller’s mechanics during spring practice a year ago, but even if he was completely healthy now, the focus has shifted to making sure he’s comfortable enough mentally to use them.

“When you know what you’re doing, know what you’re seeing and what everybody else around you is doing, it’s easy to play with great fundamentals because you’re relaxed,” Herman said. “If you’ve ever stood back there and tried to make a decision in 1.9 seconds and see the things that he has to see and process that kind of information that fast, there’s a tremendous learning curve to that.

“I think fundamentally, the more we keep attacking that [mental] side of it, the more consistent he’ll be -- because he knows how to do that.”

Miller doesn’t need to prove anything from a physical aspect this spring, and his surgery will limit the chances to do it anyway. But that might just give him more time to spend on items Herman already had at the top of the camp checklist.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There’s no escaping the history for Braxton Miller.

It was there sitting on a table just off the court at Value City Arena on Wednesday night, another Tribune Silver Football with his name on it to honor the Big Ten’s best player.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Braxton Miller holds the Silver Football awarded to the Big Ten's most valuable player.
It was echoed over the speakers during a presentation at midcourt as the Ohio State quarterback was identified as only the fourth two-time winner of the prestigious award, just before he and everybody else were reminded he could become the first to claim it three times.

Even when he’s not showing up to collect some hardware, Miller only has to walk through the hallways of the practice facility on campus to see where he now ranks among the all-time greats to have suited up for the Buckeyes.

Miller doesn’t need the reminders, though, and it’s what he has yet to accomplish that at least played some part in his decision to return for one more season with the program.

“I walked past a board the other day and my name is right under Troy Smith,” Miller said. “I texted him, ‘Hey man, check this out. I’m right behind you, man.’ He said, ‘That’s a good look. Keep it up.’

“I’ve just got to keep putting in work. … I mean, he’s got the big thing. He went to the [national championship game]. He’s got the Heisman. I’m working towards that, too.”

Those two entries are about the only items missing from Miller’s résumé, and while trophies might not have been the top priority on his list of pros and cons, they are clearly motivating him now that his mind has been made up about his future.

Miller stressed the importance of getting a degree and referenced how much he still has to learn about the mental side of the game as key factors for him. While he declined to specify what grade he received as part of his feedback from the draft advisory board, he called it “one of the best evaluations you can get.”

After struggling down the stretch as a passer as the Buckeyes fell out of national-title contention with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and then dropped the Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson, his professional stock certainly seemed to take a hit. But Miller indicated that he was leaning toward returning all along, and there doesn’t appear to be any shortage of benefits in doing so.

“There wasn’t a big thought about [leaving],” Miller said. “I always knew I was eventually going to make that decision and I was going to come back. … I just sat down with the coaches, observed everything, made sure that I was making the right decision. I went over everything, and it wasn’t too hard of a decision.

“Coming back, you want to accomplish things that you didn’t accomplish in your first three years and I feel like I left some little things out on the field and there’s a lot of achievements I can still go do. I can achieve all of my goals, there’s a lot of things that I think about and that’s why I wanted to come back. I sat down with my coach and my dad and we made the right decision.”

Aside from the chance to rewrite the record books individually, Miller now has a chance to fine-tune his mechanics, improve his grasp of concepts on both sides of the ball and potentially build himself into a high-round draft pick.

For the Buckeyes, the rewards are every bit as obvious. They’ve got a two-time conference player of the year, a multipurpose athlete who has twice finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting and a senior with three years of starting experience returning to lead their high-octane offense as they reload for another shot at a Big Ten title -- or more.

And everybody involved is aware of the kind of legacy they can create together.

“I trusted in the people, including myself and coach [Urban] Meyer and his parents, people that were advising him and the outlets where he was getting his information from, they all kind of pointed in the same direction,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “That was to make sure that he does come back and continue improving on the trajectory that he’s been improving on.

“He’s got a chance, obviously, when he leaves here to set dang near every school record imaginable, every Big Ten record imaginable and win a championship or two. And then, hopefully, he’ll be a first-round draft pick.”

Those potential accomplishments are no secret to Miller, and he’s definitely not shying away from them. If anything, after clutching another Silver Football, the way he’s embracing history appears to be a key part of the reason he’s still sticking around.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
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Americans should have the right to bear yogurt anywhere ...
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always chasing the sizzle. What the Ohio State coach needed more than anything this time, though, was some steak.

Like usual, Meyer had skill players with speed in his recruiting class, a prerequisite for his spread offense and perhaps the type of target he annually covets above all else. But on the heels of a class that was light on linemen and with four senior starters walking out the door after last season, Meyer had no choice but to load up on big guys with his third class since taking over the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer and Braxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesWith four senior starters on the O-line leaving, Urban Meyer knew he had to sign some linemen to help protect Braxton Miller.
And he did exactly that, signing more offensive linemen than any other position. When all the paperwork was filed on Wednesday, Meyer had a group that might not be as flashy as the burners on the perimeter but ultimately figures to be the foundation for Ohio State’s future.

“Last year was a [recruiting] disappointment in the offensive line,” Meyer said. “I’d say two of the five this year have to be in the depth, and we recruited as such.

“Typically you don’t put freshmen in there early, but these guys have got mature bodies and they’re fairly mature men.”

Certainly the newcomers aren’t as physically developed as the veterans who just graduated, and obviously they don’t have anywhere near the experience competing at the Big Ten level. But based on the numbers and the talent on hand, the Buckeyes may have no choice but to plug a couple true freshmen at least into the two-deep depth chart as they rebuild the unit almost from scratch.

Taylor Decker is the lone holdover, and Meyer confirmed that the junior is set to move from right tackle to left as part of the transition. Pat Elflein handled himself well at guard in place of Marcus Hall late in the season, and he’s a safe bet to lock down another starting job. Jacoby Boren has played in reserve and impressed on the practice field, and he will move into the lineup at center. The rest of the rotation is currently written in pencil, which if nothing else at least leaves the possibility open that a fresh face could make a push for playing time.

With such precious cargo at quarterback, though, the Buckeyes would surely prefer to plug in a player who has at least been through a season with the program to help protect Braxton Miller. Their options, however, are somewhat limited after signing just two linemen a year ago, losing one of them before the season and ultimately moving a defender to the other side of the ball to help make up for it.

“I think last year’s smallness in numbers certainly led to an increased urgency to have to go sign those guys,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “But with last year, at Ohio State we’re not just going to sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don’t think he can help us win a national championship, we’re not going to sign him. Those guys weren’t out there towards the end of recruiting last year, so that put us in a dire need of urgency this year.

“Really the entire staff did a great job coming through with five offensive linemen, and all five of them, none of them are guys who you would think would be reaches at Ohio State.”

Out of that bunch that earned their offers, Jamarco Jones had his name pop up most frequently as a crucial signee and possible option to lend a hand early, with Demetrius Knox not far behind him. Brady Taylor, a late flip from Virginia Tech, caught Meyer’s eye as well after getting up to 295 pounds and could emerge as a guy he said “could sneak in the depth fairly quickly.”

On top of that, the Buckeyes also have a pair of true freshmen linemen already on campus in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, potentially giving them a chance to acclimate quickly and make an impression during spring practice as the Buckeyes sort through the candidates on hand. But even if none of them wind up as regulars by the end of the season, the day surely isn’t all that far off when all those speed-burners Meyer is stockpiling are counting on the latest group of beefy blockers to give them room to work.

“Our toys are very useless,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said, “until we take care of that front.”

Video: Ohio State OC Tom Herman

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
9:30
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Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman talks about the recent additions to the roster on national signing day, his busy schedule and the return of quarterback Braxton Miller.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Either way, Urban Meyer admitted he was going to put on a smile.

After going down to the wire with one of his most important targets, the Ohio State coach made it clear that the one he was sporting on signing day on Wednesday was genuine and not the fake one he thought he might need if Jamarco Jones spurned his program.

Instead Jones delivered some good news on the phone, and the rest of the committed recruits all faxed in signatures without incident, Ohio State tacked on one unexpected addition and Meyer didn't need to force any grins after again putting together the best class in the Big Ten.

Jamarco Jones
Jared Shanker/ESPNGetting Jamarco Jones to sign with Ohio State helped make it a winning day for the Buckeyes.
"I think we won today," Meyer said. "I made it clear to our guys, I'm very pleased with their efforts. That was a good class."

Missing out on Jones after he flirted late in the process with Michigan State might have changed Meyer's tune, though there still would have been plenty of talent coming to campus even if the talented offensive lineman hadn't decided to stick with his pledge to the Buckeyes.

But in the end, Meyer had little to complain about after putting the finishing touches on his third batch of signees with Ohio State. Now the real work begins for the Buckeyes, but not before taking a look at what they accomplished on national signing day.

Biggest need filled: Offensive line

  • The Buckeyes notably came up short on the recruiting trail last year in an effort to add depth to the offensive line, and with four senior starters departing after the Orange Bowl, they couldn't afford to miss out on big bodies again. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman got exactly what they needed to bolster that critical position group, and they're expecting at least two of the five linemen they signed this year to at least be in the two-deep by the fall. Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones are already on campus, but it was Jamarco Jones who drew the most mentions from Meyer on Wednesday and was hailed as the make-or-break player in the class. Throw in Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor and the future should be in good shape again up front.
Late surprise: Darius Slade

  • Around noon, Meyer left the door open to potentially add one more player to the class, despite coming up short in a head-to-head battle with Michigan State for Malik McDowell and already having signed letters from the rest of the anticipated class. A couple hours later, Meyer once again unveiled a late surprise, swooping in for defensive lineman Darius Slade, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who had been committed to the Spartans before his change of heart. Meyer gave all the credit to new defensive line coach Larry Johnson for that final addition, and an already deep, talented group added one more talented piece.
Deepest position: Linebacker

  • The crown jewel of the class was already on campus for the Buckeyes, and after catching a glimpse of Raekwon McMillan working out on Wednesday morning, Meyer suggested he could easily be confused with an upperclassmen given how mature he already appears physically. But he's not the only linebacker Meyer is counting on to lend a hand as quickly as possible at the thinnest position on the roster, and the other three options all seem to be just as appealing for the Buckeyes. Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker Jr. and Kyle Berger won't have the benefit of going through spring practice like McMillan, but the foursome collectively had praise heaped on them -- and Meyer vowed there were "no redshirt plans for those players at all."
Instant impact candidates: Offensive skill players

  • The handy guide for predicting the likelihood of a freshman making a big splash, per Herman: The further away a player lines up from the snap, the better the chances. Given both the need for more playmakers on the perimeter and the speedy guys they signed, the search for new Buckeyes who might leave the biggest mark this fall starts with the wide receivers and another potential hybrid weapon. Noah Brown, Parris Campbell Jr., Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin all bring the kind of game-changing athleticism Ohio State covets so desperately, and there should be playing time to be had at receiver. But it's the dual threat Curtis Samuel could pose as both a target in the passing game and as a rusher that really seemed to have the coaching staff fired up, and like Dontre Wilson a year ago, he could become a factor in a hurry.

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