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COLUMBUS — Braxton Miller was a marked man even before he arrived on the Ohio State campus, billed as "the next great Buckeye quarterback."
Miller had a large "Block O" and a cluster of Buckeye leaves tattooed on his left shoulder long before he made a formal commitment to play for Ohio State. He enrolled early, was in classes in January, and now, as Miller goes through his first spring practice with the Buckeyes, he is drawing a lot more attention for his play than for his extensive ink work.
Miller is the most intriguing member in the five-player field of candidates who are vying to replace Terrelle Pryor as Ohio State's starter for the first five games of the 2011 season. The Buckeyes' month of spring practice is the informal auditioning period for Miller and the others, and Saturday's hour-long scrimmage was a rare opportunity to show their stuff in a game-like format.
Pryor, who is being held out of contact drills this spring while he recovers from surgery on his injured foot, is one of five Buckeyes who will sit out the first five games while serving an NCAA-mandated suspension. That resulted from their involvement in the sale of OSU memorabilia and game wear in exchange for cash and discounts on tattoos.
With Pryor and his anticipated senior season run at the Heisman Trophy shelved, that opened an unexpected window for the "next" Ohio State quarterback. While senior and two-year backup Joe Bauserman likely has the inside track on paper, based on head coach Jim Tressel's long-established allegiance to his veterans, Miller has been a constant topic of discussion and intrigue.
So far, Tressel has not tipped his hand as to which of his stable of quarterbacks he is leaning towards, and he did not take questions from the media following Saturday's scrimmage. After Bauserman and Miller, there's Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham, and Justin Siems. At this point, it appears that Miller, Bauserman, and Guiton are ahead of the other two.
"I think repetitions at that [quarterback] position are important," Tressel said as the Buckeyes opened spring workouts. "[Miller] coming in early and getting those reps is huge. I'm talking everyday in practice and every individual drill and every perimeter drill, every drill throwing one-on-one. You can't beat experience."
As expected, Bauserman started spring drills working with the number one offense, while Miller was down with the threes and fours. Miller knew he would have to climb the ladder once the Buckeyes moved out of the weight room and onto the practice fields.
"It's just an opportunity," he said earlier this year. "Just got to get the job done, do the work, and see who wins it out."
Miller certainly has the credentials to contend. At Huber Heights Wayne near Dayton, he was good enough to be rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the country by the major recruiting services. Miller passed for 2,167 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior, while rushing for 658 yards and 17 more scores.
He took his team to the Division I state championship game before losing a close one to Lakewood St. Edward. The Buckeyes offered him a scholarship when Miller was just a sophomore, and although Ohio State had a strong inside track all along, Florida, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Georgia all continued to pursue him.
Ohio State quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano, who is expected to play a key role in deciding which player will ultimately start the 2011 opener against Akron, is impressed with Miller's credentials.
"Braxton is a very dynamic player," Siciliano said. "He has a very strong arm, great feet, has very quick hands from the quarterback position. Does a great job of keeping his eyes down field and getting the ball to the guy who needs to get the ball as quickly as possible. He's able to run the football, as well. He understands that he has to get north and south as quickly as he can."
In Saturday's scrimmage, none of the OSU quarterbacks separated themselves from the pack. Miller more than held his own, however, completing four of seven passes and ripping off a slick 11-yard touchdown run after avoiding a sack and then evading tacklers on his way to the end zone.
Throughout winter workouts and the spring practices, Miller has been getting regular counsel from Pryor, who is actively involved in the work with his understudies. Miller has been an eager listener and stated earlier that as far as his relationship with Pryor goes, it's not one of competition, but one of respect.
"I figured I'd learn from the best, " Miller said.
Ohio State's spring practice wraps up April 23 with the 1:30 p.m. Scarlet and Gray game in Ohio Stadium.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.