2012 was a breakout season for Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. 2013 is set to be an even bigger year as the junior grows from the Buckeyes' primary rushing threat into a field general with true command of the offense through the air and on the ground.
That means going through reads and progressions, keeping his eyes downfield to see open receivers and handling immediate pressure, all while tracking his internal clock.
Urban Meyer's first season in Columbus was about his team surviving the transition. The 2012 Buckeyes not only survived, but they succeeded in going 12-0 in a season shortened by a postseason ban. This season is about everyone on that roster thriving as the Buckeyes push toward a BCS Championship Game appearance.
That starts with quarterback (and preseason Heisman front-runner) Braxton Miller.
In 2011, Miller was just working to keep his head above water, throwing for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushing for 715 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year, with Meyer, Miller was able to increase his production to 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air and another 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
That improvement was enough to net Miller the Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year Award, a second-team quarterback spot on the Coaches' Team and a first-team spot on the Media's Team. It also earned Miller his current spot as a Heisman favorite.
This season, Miller is truly being given the keys to the machine in Columbus. There are weapons in the run game. There are weapons in the pass game. The offensive line is one of the nation's best units. The defense is looking to an influx of talented youth to improve from a year ago.
In other words, the preseason No. 2-ranked Buckeyes are poised for big things, and it starts with Miller.
Spring football was all about developing a balanced attack on offense, with backs emerging to run the ball and receiving targets becoming more reliable. The spring game, in which Miller completed 16 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, spoke to Meyer's emphasis on development in the pass game.
2013's campaign, with a BCS Championship and a Heisman in its sights, will be about Miller expanding his game. That means getting through his reads and progressions more quickly in an effort to move the ball with his arm, not just his legs.
Getting through progressions is a multi-step process that starts before the snap for Miller, the same as it does for every other quarterback in the nation. He is looking for two versus one high safety. He is counting defenders in the box to determine whether to check to a run or a pass play.
When Miller's got a pass play on, the biggest issue over the last few seasons has been whether to run or throw. Last year, the quarterback had 227 carries and 254 passing attempts—relative balance in numbers—but heavily skewed toward rushing from the quarterback position.
By comparison, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez ran 195 times while attempting 368 passes. Heisman winner Johnny Manziel carried 201 times, with 434 pass attempts in the Aggies' uptempo attack.
Miller needs to go from the 47.1 percent of total touches being runs to a number closer to 30 percent of his touches coming on the ground. In addition to backs carrying a bigger load of the run game, the best way to drop that number is improving in the pass game.
That means getting through his progressions and reads.
In the progression, you see primary, secondary and tertiary receivers in the passing route. With reads, you have defenders to key off of that signal passes to those same receivers. Here you see numbers indicating the progression in which Miller looks in order to determine which receiver to get the ball to.
Getting past that second read is going to be the key for Miller in 2013. Getting to two has been doable. However, getting to three and then looking back-side is an area where Miller can grow his game. Instead of one-two-tuck and run, or one-two-scramble to buy time, Miller should get to the back-side and third reads before looking to gain on the ground.
When it comes to reads, here is where Miller, as a third year player, will show real growth from an understanding-defenses standpoint.
Recognizing quickly the advantage at the interior will help Miller get the ball out more quickly. It is less about the progression and more about recognizing that the Mike linebacker, "M", has a decision to make with the double slants heading to the middle. If Mike opens up to the left, the right receiver will be the quick pass. If Mike opens up right, hit the left slant early.
Reads are even more important when it comes to blitz situations. When teams decide to pressure Miller, the quarterback has shown a knack for getting himself out of trouble and picking up positive yards with his legs. But Miller's also been sacked plenty in trying to hang on against pressure.
This season, instead of simply bailing himself out with his legs, look for Miller to use the immediate reads to get the ball out quickly and take advantage of pressures.
Against six- and seven-man pressures, Miller (and his receivers) have to recognize where the void will be and get the ball out in a hurry. The best way to beat pressures are with a quarterback's arm and hot receivers.
Braxton Miller is going to get his touches on the ground. The key is for him to get those carries with designed quarterback runs and in big moments where there is a lot of green in front of him due to coverage.
This season, look for Miller to not just stay in the pocket, but keep his eyes downfield as he moves behind the line of scrimmage. Watch for him to get further into his progressions and make quicker reads, especially in hot situations.
That is all going to work together to advance not just his game, but the Ohio State Buckeyes offense as well. Miller is poised to take that next step, and that means improving his passing numbers, a move rooted in getting better at the little things successful quarterbacks do on an every-play basis.