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July 24, 2013

Miller seeks improvement, not spotlight

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod

CHICAGO, Ill. -- Noticing the throng of media surrounding the table designated for his head coach, a smile flashed across Braxton Miller's face as he sat down at his makeshift podium during Wednesday's Big Ten media day session.

"This is going to go nice and quick," Miller said to his significantly smaller constituency. "Just how I like it."

Ohio State's 20-year-old star quarterback insists that he's more comfortable with the media now than he has been in the past -- when one-word answers seemed to come as easily to him as touchdown runs -- but he still admits that the spotlight is a space that he'd rather shy away from. Whereas Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel spent the offseason embattled in controversy and dominating headlines for the wrong reasons, perhaps his biggest threat to winning a second consecutive Heisman Trophy has remained content with not making any news bigger than his decision to temporarily dye his hair blonde in April.

That's rare at a football factory like Ohio State, where student celebrity has run out the likes of Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor. But even having already broken his school's single season record for total offense while leading the Buckeyes to an undefeated season in 2012, Miller doesn't have any desire to be known for being anything other than a football player.

"That's how I was brought up," Miller said during his interview session, which wound up lasting around 25 minutes. "I like to have fun, but I don't like to get in trouble at the end of the day. I don't want to get in the press and be talked about in a bad way. I'm just a cool guy to hang out with, talk to, chill with. I don't worry about it too much.

"If you ask anyone, I'm just silly, fun."

While Miller's laid back nature certainly makes him a coach's dream off the field, it has at times led to questions about his capabilities as a leader on it. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer didn't make any bones about his desire for Miller to take on a more vocal role in his junior season, stating: "Our quarterback has to become that great leader."

For his part, Miller insists that he's made the necessary strides to develop a presence with his teammates that goes beyond his play. The Huber Heights, Ohio native has been a part of a group of select Ohio State players to attend weekly leadership classes this offseason, and said that his role as the team's quarterback only amplifies the need for him to become one of the faces of his team.

"I'm much more vocal now," Miller said. "You gotta lead the offense and be the head honcho. You gotta make the calls and tell people what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. You gotta lead them in the right way."

That's not to say that Miller's only improvements have come from the classroom.

Despite being responsible for 3,310 total yards and 28 touchdowns last season, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year's completion percentage of 58.3 percent leaves much to be desired for an elite college quarterback. With a year of Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman's spread system under his belt, Miller said that he's more comfortable on the field than he was a year ago, and expects that to show up on Saturdays this fall.

"I feel like everybody knows what they're doing," he said. "I take my three steps, I know (OSU wide receiver Devin Smith's) going to be there on an out-cut. I can just place it anywhere and do what I do."

In front of his much larger audience, Meyer vouched for the growth that Miller has made this past offseason -- both as a player and a leader.

"Completely different guy," Meyer said when comparing Miller to where he was a year ago. "The job of a quarterback, especially in college football, is to organize and take control of the throwing game. The NCAA gives you 20 hours per week. In the offseason you can do everything but throw a football. So he isn't getting the adequate coaching. To be a functional throwing football team, you have to take control of the whole situation. He didn't do that a year ago. He wasn't experienced at it. If we are very productive throwing the football, it's because the quarterback took charge.

"I haven't seen the ceiling on a wonderful kid. I hope it shows up soon, because when it does it's going to be fun to watch."

If Miller does indeed max out his potential, it's going to be a lot harder for the shy signal-caller to avoid the attention that he could not care less about.



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