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By Jim Naveau | Special to the R-C
CHICAGO — A year ago behind one of the best offensive lines in Ohio State history, Braxton Miller missed most of three games with a sprained knee and suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery.
So, it is no surprise that protecting the Buckeyes quarterback is priority No. 1 for OSU coach Urban Meyer this season with four new starters on the offensive line.
Miller has bounced back quickly from shoulder surgery in late February that repaired the damage done by a hit in the Orange Bowl and cleaned up some old damage in his throwing shoulder.
"Our quarterback is ready to go. He's full speed, in the best shape of his life," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday at the Big Ten football media days.
"Protecting our quarterback is paramount. It's concern No. 1. It's A through F, A through Z, A through X, whatever it is," Meyer said.
How important is Miller to OSU's hopes of challenging for a national title again this season?
When that question was put to tight end Jeff Heuerman, he said, "How important is it to keep LeBron healthy for the Cavaliers? It's about the same."
Ohio State won the three games Miller missed last season when Kenny Guiton came in and played exceptionally well early in the first quarter against San Diego State and as the starter against California and Florida A&M.
But there is no experienced back-up to turn to this season. And tailback Carlos Hyde is in the NFL. So the importance of a healthy Miller is magnified.
Miller missed spring practice but was ahead of schedule once he was allowed to begin throwing.
"I'm at the end of my recovery. I've been throwing for the last two months," he said. "It's been pretty good. Everything is fine."
Keeping Miller healthy does not mean asking him to run less or to take all the risk out of his game, Meyer said.
"His issues are that he sometimes goes above and beyond what his body is going to allow him to do," Meyer said.
"Do we try to slow Braxton down? Absolutely not. We try to protect him, surround him and maybe come up with a good scheme to get the ball out of his hands a little quicker (on passes).
"The durability issue isn't because his body wasn't meant to play college football. It's because of how hard he plays," he said.
Miller said, "You just have to be smart and not do anything extra to hurt yourself and be out a couple games."
While he says team goals are the biggest thing he thinks about, he admits the Heisman is still a goal.
"I walk past them all the time. I think about what I need to do to have that feeling to walk across that stage to the podium with the Heisman in my hands."