Asked how important it is to Ohio State for Braxton Miller to stay healthy, Buckeyes tight end Jeff Heuerman answered the question with a question of his own.
"How important is it for Cleveland to keep LeBron (James) healthy?" Heuerman said with a laugh.
Only Miller's health is far from a laughing matter in Columbus, as evidenced by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer's remarks at Monday's Big Ten media day. Pointing out that the Buckeyes will replacing four experienced starters on the offensive line from a season ago, the third-year OSU head coach explained that getting his new hog mollies ready for 2014 has been this past offseason's top priority.
"Concern number one—I mean, that's it," Meyer said. "There's a bunch of concerns you always have. It's A through F, A through Z, A through X, whatever it is. But the number one on the list is development of that offensive line for the reasons you just said, among many other. You want to win that game, but protecting our quarterback is paramount. So that's—I don't want to say that's all our focus—but that's where a lot of our focus is right now."
And for good reason.
The inexperienced offensive line will be responsible for keeping the Buckeyes' Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in the starting lineup. And with backup Kenny Guiton and running back Carlos Hyde no longer around to fall back on, Miller's value to the team is even higher than it was last year.
Even if the OSU offensive front five can come together and prove to be a cohesive unit, what's scarier for Meyer is his acknowledgement that the Buckeyes offensive line is only a part of a potential preemptive strike. Having coached numerous notable names throughout his career, Meyer is aware that some of the same traits that make Miller great are also the ones that kept him on the sideline with an MCL injury for the better part of three nonconference games in the 2013 season.
"Braxton Miller, his issues are he goes sometimes above and beyond what his body is going to allow him to do," Meyer said. "(Tim) Tebow, John Simon, Braxton Miller, Christian Bryant—those are guys that have the competitive spirit at the highest possible level, and that's all they do is know how to go."
So how does Meyer plan on balancing the risk vs. reward of Miller's all-out style?
He doesn't. With an adequate offensive line, emerging weapons on the perimeter and a better understanding of the offense from his star quarterback, Meyer believes that Miller's senior season should see him act as a distributor more than the player who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.
"I'll not one time say, 'Don't go hard,'" Meyer said of Miller. "You have to be smart sometimes in certain situations to get down. But when we coached John Simon it wasn't, 'Hey, slow down a little bit.' Football's a tough, violent sport. Some people go really, really hard at it. Braxton's one of those players."
To further put the importance of Miller's health in perspective, there isn't another signal-caller on the Buckeyes roster who has taken a significant snap at Ohio State.
In fact, No. 2 quarterback Cardale Jones is better known for an infamous tweet than anything he's done on the football field. The inexperience behind Miller alone is reason enough to believe that any serious injury suffered by the reigning two-time Big Ten MVP could derail a potential Buckeyes run to the first-ever College Football Playoff.
While Meyer claims that Miller is in the "best shape of his life," Miller himself insists that he'll do what's necessary to stay on the field for the duration of his senior season. Having just fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery that sidelined him for five months, that may be easier said that done, but the Huber Heights, Ohio, native remains optimistic about his health nonetheless.
"I love competition, so (Meyer's) correct on that. But you just gotta be smart about your play and make sure you don't do anything that brings you to being out for a couple of games," Miller said. "Just be smart, be about your game and take care of your business."
If Miller really is to the Buckeyes what James is to the Cavs, Ohio State will be in big trouble if its quarterback misses any extended playing time. Relayed Heuerman's hypothesis, a knowing grin flashed across Meyer's face, perhaps thinking about the season pass that he extended to the 4-time NBA MVP.
"I don't want to make a headline," Meyer said.
Unfortunately for Meyer, his tight end already did.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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