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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Q&A with Ohio State’s WR coach on Braxton Miller’s move, Michael Thomas

By Andrew Krammer

Note: This is the first in a draft preview series of four interviews delving into the 2016 receiver class, one the Vikings are positioned to pick from this week. They were originally featured in last week’s Purple Podcast.

The Vikings’ pro day tour included up-close looks at a strong Ohio State class as Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer made their way to Columbus last month. Among the 21 Buckeyes declared for the NFL Draft is a pair of intriguing receivers with two very different paths.

Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith joined to discuss quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller and the unconventional 2013 redshirt year for a ‘clouded’ Michael Thomas, who since emerged as the Buckeyes’ leading receiver.

WR Michael Thomas / height: 6-3 / weight: 212 / arms: 32 1/8? / hands: 10.5?

A two-year starter at Ohio State. Leaving school as a redshirt junior after his age 22 season. Nephew of former No. 1-overall pick Keyshawn Johnson. Redshirted as a sophomore after appearing in 11 games as a freshman. Returned to catch nine touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.

Stats: 56 receptions, 781 yards and nine TDs in 2015

“I had a plan the whole time,” Thomas said at the scouting combine, referring to his redshirt 2013 season. “It didn’t go straight line, but I corrected it, got back on track. Now I’m just chasing my dream.”

WR Braxton Miller / height: 6-1 / weight: 201 / arms: 31 3/4? / hands: 9 1/8?

Made the change in July from a once-Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback to receiver after lingering issues with his throwing shoulder, which caused him to miss the 2014 season. Returned and continued to show his athleticism at a new position. Though he’ll have less than a year at receiver before he joins his first NFL team.

Stats: 25 receptions for 340 yards and three TDs, adding 261 rushing yards and a TD
(2011-2013 QB stats: 5,292 passing yards, 52 TDs to 17 INTs and 3,054 rushing yards and 32 TDs)

“There are a lot of things you have to prepare yourself for going to the next level,” Miller said at the scouting combine. “It’s not about who’s the fastest or the strongest. It’s about perfecting the receiver position. There’s a lot that goes into it. I’ve been doing my homework. It’s not about athleticism. It’s not about speed. It’s not about strength.”

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1500ESPN: Braxton Miller made the move from quarterback to receiver in July. How did he handle the transition last season?

Zach Smith: “He handled it like Braxton Miller would. I mean, for anyone that knows him, he’s a pro. And he just wants to be successful. He just wants to be great. So he handled it like somebody who has that burning desire would. He attacked it like a guy that this was his dream and what he wanted to do for a living. Once he kind of had the realization and made the decision to switch positions, he went all in. I mean late nights in the summer learning the position, doing drills, meetings. Just trying to get him ready, because he knew he really had a short timeline to put his abilities to play receiver on film and to build his résumé.”

1500ESPN: You had mentioned Braxton Miller’s friendship with teammate Michael Thomas before. Was Michael a part of his position switch at all?

ZS: “Braxton and Michael are close as is, and Mike – of all the guys I’ve ever coached, he’s one of the most professional and committed guys that I’ve been around. So he knows the position in and out, and he helped his boy out. He coached him up. When we’d run routes, he’d tell him what he needed to do different. He knew so well what we were trying to do that he could be me when I couldn’t be there.”

1500ESPN: After one season, what will NFL teams be getting in Braxton Miller as a wide receiver?

ZS: “He’s ready. He’s ready for that level. The cool thing is I’ve been around big-time NFL guys and I’ve been around average NFL guys. I’ve been around all of them. What he was able to do in one year, not really one year – six months, kind of gives you a glimpse into what he will become. So that’s what a lot of teams are going to have to do, is see this is the product today after six months of work. What’s it going to be in 18 months? He’s obviously been one of the most gifted athletes in the country for the last four years of college football. Now it’s just going to be getting to a team that actually has the confidence in their own coaching staff and structure to help him get to a maximized version of himself. He’s not far from it now.”

1500ESPN: Do you think it’s possible Braxton Miller plays quarterback again?

ZS: “I don’t know. He’s healed. It came down to if something happened again to his shoulder, if he was throwing and all of a sudden it re-injured, it’s over. It was his last chance, his last year. He didn’t have a backup option. He made the decision to switch because it wasn’t worth the risk. He knew he could play receiver at that level. It’s one of those things that maybe without that finality and urgency, he might try to do it. Not in a full-time role, but certainly they could do some things with him. For us, it wasn’t an option, because if he re-injured it, he’s done.”

1500ESPN: Let’s get to Michael Thomas, your leading receiver and potential first- or second-round draft pick. At the combine, he measured out well by standing 6-3 with 10.5-inch hands. On the field, how would you describe his style of play?

ZS: “He’s a complete receiver. He’s got to be the best receiver in this draft, and if he isn’t I would challenge that. He’s as football-savvy of a receiver I’ve coached and been around and seen. He’s playing chess where other people are playing checkers. He’s legitimately dictating every snap and what he’s setting up for later. He’s unbelievable. On top of that, the really cool part is, he’s a great kid and competitive. He’s as close to my kids as any player I’ve ever had. He’s the complete package, he really is, and that’s not a coach on a radio show promoting his guy. That is legitimate.”

1500ESPN: After his freshman season, he took an unconventional redshirt year reportedly to focus on his grades and the playbook. Could you shed light on what that year off did for him?

ZS: “That redshirt year made him who he is today. He was a guy who was all over the place. He had a clouded perspective on himself, on really how to operate, just how to function and how to become a great one. He just didn’t have it figured out, he was very clouded. So that year gave him the fuel and the motivation. It legitimately made him play like he was starving for success. Where before he was just trying to do the right thing. Getting redshirted after playing as a freshman made him say, ‘All right, I’m done playing games. It’s time to go to work.”

1500ESPN: What have you seen in the two years since?

ZS: “I saw a guy who was a very average player turn into the best receiver in the country. One of those things where it was so fun to coach him, but at the same time it was exhausting. Because he would wear you out on, ‘I watched and this corner plays like this’ or ‘I noticed when I run this route, I have this flaw.’ He’d be in my office nonstop. He’d want to come over to the house and talk. It was exhausting in a good way.”

1500ESPN: The Vikings could use a physical target who competes for contested grabs. How does Michael Thomas use his size?

ZS: “He’s going to win with his hands. He’s a very physical presence on the field. When he gets his hands on a corner, it’s over. On top of that, when he doesn’t get his hands on a corner or win at the line, he’s got some of the best ball skills I’ve seen. He’s going to high-point a ball. His hands are ridiculous. I don’t think he got covered in the red zone. I think it was more of a matter of opportunities, not a matter of how many times he’d win.”

1500ESPN: Where does he have room to grow?

ZS: “His biggest flaw is, I think, his strength is a weakness. So some of his drive and motivation, when he catches a football it’s like he has to get into the end zone. And that’s how he plays. And it’s a great thing, but god forbid he gets tackled on the one-yard line. He just can’t let it go. For a quarter of football all he can think about is how he should’ve scored and what he should’ve done different. He’s got to kind of grow and learn to let that play go and move onto the next one. The next thing is, like any big receiver, when he gets tired he’s not as fine-tuned, not as much of a technician as he should be.”

1500ESPN: What’s one thing – whether it be about personality or play – that we’re not going to hear about Michael Thomas leading up to this draft?

ZS: “You’re going to hear about Keyshawn Johnson, you’re going to hear about his on-field successes. You’re going to hear about his strengths and weaknesses as a player and athlete, but what you’re not going to hear about is what really matters and what really sets him apart from anyone I’ve coached – is what that kid has deep inside him, you can’t coach and you can’t teach. He has a burning desire to be elite. And it’s not something that is said. That’s what separates him. There’s no doubt he’s going to be a big-time player in the NFL. There’s just not, because there’s no way in his genetic DNA he won’t put the work in to do that.”

The post Q&A with Ohio State’s WR coach on Braxton Miller’s move, Michael Thomas appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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