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Braxton Miller's Best Bet Is a Position Change at Ohio State

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 21, 2015

Braxton Miller hasn't played football since the 2013 season.
Braxton Miller hasn't played football since the 2013 season.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For all of the speculation surrounding the future of Braxton Miller, the Ohio State quarterback's best move may not be one to Oregon.

Or LSU.

Or Florida State.

Or Oklahoma.

Or Duke.

Dating back to November, there's been no shortage of rumblings of a potential move by Miller. As a two-time Big Ten MVP, Miller would seemingly have his pick of suitors should he decide to exercise his ability as a graduate transfer to leave the Buckeyes' complicated quarterback situation and gain immediate eligibility elsewhere.

Miller hasn't done much to quiet the noise either, telling ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy that "I've got to get my shoulder right" when asked if he'd return to Ohio State next season. But Miller's best move might be to not make one at all, unless it's a move to a different position.

The idea of Miller playing anything other than quarterback seemed like nothing more than fan fiction a mere three months ago, when the emergence of his replacement, freshman J.T. Barrett, first put Miller's future at Ohio State in doubt. Since then, Cardale Jones has led the Buckeyes to a national championship and announced he'll be returning to Columbus in 2015, only muddying Miller's path to reclaim his starting status.

"He didn't guarantee me anything. He didn't guarantee anyone else a starting spot," Jones said of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show. "He just told us that the hardest working player will get the spot.”

But a potential position switch for Miller would have more to do with himself than it would the two quarterbacks he'd be competing for the Buckeyes' starting spot with.

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Braxton Miller's shoulder injury limited him to the sideline in 2014.
Braxton Miller's shoulder injury limited him to the sideline in 2014.USA TODAY Sports

If Miller is hellbent on playing the quarterback position, he could surely find a place to do so. Just about every program in the nation would be happy to have a player of his caliber as its starting signal-caller—he just happens to currently play at one that also possesses a third-team AP All-American in Barrett and the reigning national champion in Jones.

But what's gone underreported or not taken into consideration enough when it comes to discussions of Miller's future is the severity of his injury. Tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder last August, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year underwent his second shoulder surgery in an eight-month span and was diagnosed with a nine- to 12-month recovery period.

Forget learning a new playbook in a shortened time period, Miller's shoulder may simply never be healthy enough for him to quarterback again. Famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery on Miller's torn labrum, which is the same injury he treated NFL quarterback Drew Brees for in 2006.

Dr. Andrews has since gone on to refer to Brees' recovery as "the most remarkable comeback I've ever treated."

"All expectations were that he had a career-ending shoulder injury. But he had such a good work ethic...he was an unbelievable comeback," Andrews told Vox.com in an exclusive interview last June. "Usually, the only results I remember are the bad ones. I just think on the players who don't have that kind of comeback."

Given that unlike Brees, Miller's injury occurred while recovering from another shoulder injury, it's very possible—if not likely—he'll fall into that category. At the very least, the odds appear to be stacked against Miller making a full recovery from a passing standpoint.

Braxton Miller's initial injury occurred during last season's Orange Bowl.
Braxton Miller's initial injury occurred during last season's Orange Bowl.USA TODAY Sports

Those have been the rumblings around Columbus lately, with Meyer stating on multiple occasions he expects Miller to return to Ohio State next season alongside Barrett and Jones. Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch confirmed on Tuesday that Miller is currently enrolled in classes for OSU's spring semester, although Miller could drop out at any time and take his talents elsewhere this summer.

But should Miller still be a Buckeye next fall as anticipated, it's hard to imagine he, Barrett or Jones being relegated to the role of third-string quarterback. And given the severity of his injury, Miller may ultimately be the odd man out, although that's not to say he couldn't find another way to help Ohio State's quest for a second consecutive national championship.

In the first three years of his college career, Miller proved to be one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers with his feet, totaling 3,054 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns from 2011-13. The Huber Heights, Ohio, native was believed to be the Buckeyes' second fastest player in 2012, with a purported 40-yard dash time of 4.32 seconds.

George Whitfield Jr. @georgewhitfield

And the fastest 2013 #Buckeyes are... (The QB is 2nd fastest?) #SpeedKills #OSUtour http://t.co/ADIMdDZm3o

Given his size (listed at 6'2", 215 pounds) Miller could play either running back, wide receiver or the hybrid H-Back position in Meyer's spread offense. Like quarterback, Ohio State is equally loaded at all of those spots as well, but they are positions more capable of rotating players and splitting playing time.

With the Buckeyes having lost arguably the best deep threat receiver in the nation in Devin Smith to graduation, one intriguing option would be for Miller to move to wideout and perfect the "nine-route" that made Smith so dangerous. That would also reduce the wear and tear on Miller's body, although his most recent injury came from throwing the ball in a non-contact drill.

"I know some people would say, ‘Why would you take a guy who’s so small and injury prone and make him play running back instead of quarterback?’ But a shoulder injury to a running back is not as devastating as it is to a quarterback," Bleacher Report NFL Draft lead analyst Matt Miller told me. "I could definitely see him following that Denard Robinson role."

After spending four years as a quarterback at Michigan, Robinson moved to "offensive weapon" in the NFL, splitting time at wide receiver and running back after being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. This past season, the 6'0", 215-pounder rushed for 582 yards and four touchdowns on 135 carries for the Jaguars.

Braxton Miller is one of the nation's most dynamic rushers.
Braxton Miller is one of the nation's most dynamic rushers.USA TODAY Sports

With a year to prepare for a similar role in college, Miller could potentially be viewed as rich man's version of his former rival in the 2016 draft. Of course, this would all be dependent on Miller being willing to make the move to a new position, a proposition that may be easier presented than accepted.

Having started at quarterback since his freshman year of high school, Miller has always seen himself as The Man, the alpha dog on every football team he's played on. While 2014 was certainly humbling for him, it may be tough for him to accept that when it comes to a future in football, his best bet might be playing a different position.

That's why Miller is still keeping his options open, which could mean transferring to somewhere else should he prove healthy enough to continue his quarterback career. But if he can't—and the chances of that may be greater than you believe—then there are certainly worse ways for Miller to showcase his skills than as a playmaker in Meyer's offense.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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