CHICAGO – A year ago behind one of the best offensive lines in Ohio State history, Braxton Miller missed most of three games with a sprained knee and suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery.
So, it is no surprise that protecting the Buckeyes quarterback is priority No. 1 for OSU coach Urban Meyer this season with four new starters on the offensive line.
Miller has bounced back quickly from shoulder surgery in late February that repaired the damage done by a hit in the Orange Bowl and cleaned up some old damage in his throwing shoulder.
“Our quarterback is ready to go. He’s full speed, in the best shape of his life,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday at the Big Ten football media days.
“Protecting our quarterback is paramount. It’s concern No. 1. It’s A through F, A through Z, A through X, whatever it is,” Meyer said.
How important is Miller to OSU’s hopes of challenging for a national title again this season?
When that question was put to tight end Jeff Heuerman, he said, “How important is it to keep LeBron healthy for the Cavaliers? It’s about the same.”
Ohio State won the three games Miller missed last season when Kenny Guiton came in and played exceptionally well early in the first quarter against San Diego State and as the starter against California and Florida A&M.
But there is no experienced back-up to turn to this season. And tailback Carlos Hyde is in the NFL. So the importance of a healthy Miller is magnified.
Miller missed spring practice but was ahead of schedule once he was allowed to begin throwing.
“I’m at the end of my recovery. I’ve been throwing for the last two months,” he said. “It’s been pretty good. Everything is fine.”
Keeping Miller healthy does not mean asking him to run less or to take all the risk out of his game, Meyer said.
“His issues are that he sometimes goes above and beyond what his body is going to allow him to do,” Meyer said.
“Do we try to slow Braxton down? Absolutely not. We try to protect him, surround him and maybe come up with a good scheme to get the ball out of his hands a little quicker (on passes).
“The durability issue isn’t because his body wasn’t meant to play college football. It’s because of how hard he plays,” he said.
Miller said, “You just have to be smart and not do anything extra to hurt yourself and be out a couple games.”
The games Miller missed last year as a junior dropped him out of the Heisman Trophy race. Especially when the big numbers he probably could have put together against overmatched teams like California and Florida and A&M.
While he says team goals are the biggest thing he thinks about, he admits the Heisman is still a goal. Seeing the Heismans of former Buckeyes like Eddie George and Archie Griffin in the Woody Hayes Center every day intensifies that desire.
“I walk past them all the time. I think about what I need to do to have that feeling to walk across that stage to the podium with the Heisman in my hands,”
A few other thoughts from Meyer on Monday:
—- Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay, who started four games for the Crimson Tide last season, does not go into fall practice as the starter at center.
Lindsay has already graduated from Alabama, so he is eligible to play right away.
“Normally, we don’t get involved in those things (transfer), but we needed some maturity in the center of that offensive line,” Meyer said. “Jacoby Boren is right in the middle of that and so is Chad Lindsay. And there is a kid named Billy Price that we redshirted a year ago.”
—-Dontre Wilson, who didn’t quite live up the hype about his game-changing speed last season as a freshman, could be a bigger part of OSU’s offense this season.
“He’s an impact guy. Last year he was a hybrid guy who really wasn’t great at anything. He was not quite strong enough to run inside. He’s much stronger, he’s much more prepared for this level of football now,” Meyer said.
—-Ryan Shazier was by far the best linebacker on the field for Ohio State last season. But the returning linebackers have been “one of our stronger groups” on the defense in the offseason, according to Meyer.
But he still wants to see big improvements in that area.
“I’m used to hearing about James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk and those guys and we weren’t at that level last year. It’s about time we play linebacker the way Ohio State is used to. I think you’re going to see it this year,” Meyer said.
—-Twitter and his wife Shelley’s witty replies to the author of the Twitter account Fake Urban Meyer are a mystery to him.
“I have one (a Twitter account) but someone helps me with it. She tells me what it is and I still don’t understand it,” he said.