How Braxton Miller Can Avoid Denard Robinson-Like Senior Letdown

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2014

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Ohio State QB Braxton MillerWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Ohio State Buckeyes received the best news they'll get all offseason when starting quarterback Braxton Miller announced in early January that he'll be returning for his senior season.

That he probably wasn't ready to be an NFL signal-caller is a debate for another day, but there's little doubt about his dynamic ability at the college level. In 2013, Miller totaled more than 3,000 yards of offense to go along with 36 touchdowns, which includes the nearly full three games in which he sat out due to injury.

Something Ohio State fans may not want to hear, however, is that those numbers are eerily similar to the ones put up by Michigan's Denard Robinson in his junior season. The Wolverines' dual-threat wizard also had 36 total touchdowns. He accounted for more than 3,300 yards but did throw 15 interceptions compared with Miller's seven.

To those who show "Script Ohio" to their newborn children, the headline may sound silly. He's better than Robinson, has a better team around him, has a better coach and is just flat-out more talented, right?

But the solution to avoiding a letdown in his senior season may not be so simple, and some of those reasons are beyond subjective. Ignoring whether or not you think Miller is a better player to begin with, how can he make sure his final legacy as a Buckeye is an overwhelmingly positive one?

To start, let's remember that Miller's ultimate goal, we'll assume, is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. In order to accomplish that goal, you have to be an elite passer at the college level. For Robinson, becoming an NFL quarterback never really appeared to be in the cards.

This is an important distinction between the two since Miller must get better as a passer in the offseason in order to meet his goals as a professional. Obviously, Robinson worked on his passing in the offseason between his junior and senior years, but his speed was always going to be his biggest asset.

In other words, Robinson was likely going to get a look from scouts regardless of whether his passing improved, whereas Miller's route seems to be quarterback or bust. So his first step in avoiding a letdown is to do everything in his power to become an accomplished thrower.

That means being able to stand up in the pocket and deliver the ball accurately around the field. We've all seen Miller flick the ball 40 yards downfield with ease or make Brett Favre-like plays in the open field, flipping the ball out to a running back at the last second or magically eluding what seems like a sure sack.

But if defenses are afraid of Miller picking them apart with his arm alone, it will make every other aspect of his game that much more dangerous.

What's interesting to note about Robinson is, after throwing for more than 2,500 yards and completing more than 62 percent of his throws as a sophomore, his marks dropped each year until he was replaced by Devin Gardner as a senior. Miller, on the other hand, has improved his numbers since seeing action as a freshman, when he completed barely 50 percent of his throws.

Another way the Buckeyes' Heisman hopeful can go out on a high note is to begin the year strong, building confidence as the season moves along. A road game at Navy won't be the most difficult challenge to open up play in 2014, but a home game against Virginia Tech should be a solid test.

The contest versus the Hokies will be so critical to Miller because, by playing well against what is typically a solid defensive squad, he'll have the knowledge that he can bring it against anybody. In Robinson's final year, the Wolverines opened against Alabama, and he was held to just 27 yards rushing in addition to only 200 yards through the air.

Though coach Brady Hoke's team responded with wins over Air Force and Massachusetts, the loss to the Crimson Tide seemed to set the tone for Robinson's 2012 campaign. By churning out a miserable performance against an elite defense, it was as if everyone, himself included, knew he wasn't up to the task of being an efficient quarterback.

We'll go out on a limb here and say that the Hokies' defense won't be anywhere near as scary as the Tide's was in 2012, but it's certainly no walk in the park.

One final way that Miller can make sure his senior year is a memorable one for the right reasons is to rely on the run game and not feel like he has to do it all himself. Because of his remarkable athleticism, Miller has been the best player on the field in practically every game throughout his life.

But Robinson also had that kind of ability, at least on the ground, and it finally started to catch up to him in his senior year at Michigan. He led the team with 1,266 yards rushing, but the second-leading rusher was Fitzgerald Toussaint with only 514.

Braxton Miller must be able to rely on RB Dontre Wilson in 2014
Braxton Miller must be able to rely on RB Dontre Wilson in 2014Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

Miller loses starting running back Carlos Hyde from the backfield, which also means losing more than 1,500 yards of offense. The key will be to not try to make that up all by himself. Freshmen backs Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson form a sort of thunder-and-lightning combo that appears poised to break out in 2014.

If Miller can be comfortable with relying on those two to pick up the slack in Hyde's absence, it'll ensure that he's not trying to do too much on his own, something that generally leads to poor play.

On the surface, there are plenty of reasons why it seems silly to even consider a letdown senior season as an option for Braxton Miller. He's much bigger than Denard Robinson, and as mentioned, he has a much better supporting cast.

But resting on those facts alone is what could cause a disappointing final year to actually happen. Miller must dig deep and improve his passing, get off to a hot start and be unafraid to utilize his running backs to make sure his final season of donning a Buckeyes uniform is a sensational one.


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