MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Braxton Miller is in his element at the Senior Bowl, even if he’s still mastering his position.
The Ohio State quarterback-turned-wide receiver is used to the attention and performing in pressure situations. So running routes and catching passes with NFL coaches, scouts and executives scrutinizing his technique and moves isn’t such a big deal.
“I love it,” Miller said. “I love competing in front of all the teams. I feel like every team needs somebody who’s an X-factor. Hopefully they’re watching me. The way I grind, the way I work in practice, that’s what I’m going to bring to the team, too.”
Miller is an X-factor in more ways than the versatility of a guy who’s made plays running, passing and catching — and even, this week, returned kicks. He’s also still a work in progress since he’s only spent one season at his adopted position.
Miller wants to show he can play outside receiver this week not just in the slot position, where he matched up mostly with safeties and linebackers for the Buckeyes. There’s no question about the athleticism of a player widely projected as an early-round draft pick.
On one play in Thursday’s practice, he planted his left foot near the goal line, freezing Northern Iowa cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, and cut inside for a touchdown catch.
Much of Miller’s college success came playing quarterback, where he was twice the Big Ten offensive player and quarterback of the year. He set the Ohio State record after being responsible for 88 touchdowns rushing, passing or receiving and ranked second in school history with 8,609 yards of total offense.
Miller transitioned to receiver after missing the 2014 season with a shoulder injury, giving way to J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. His debut against Virginia Tech featured a 54-yard touchdown catch and a 53-yard scoring run where he spun away from a defender — both in the third quarter.
The rest of the season was quieter (341 receiving yards, 281 rushing yards) but Miller is fully committed to his new position going in the NFL. He’s trying to follow in the footsteps of the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman and Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, who also were college quarterbacks.
The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder is also a big admirer of NFL receivers like Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Miller, who has set a 40 goal of 4.28 seconds for the NFL combine, isn’t afraid to aim high.
“His speed, size, the way he runs routes. It’s off the charts,” Miller said of Jones. “I want to be like that. That’s why I’ve been watching his film since he came from Alabama. The way he runs routes is crazy. I love it. I’m going to have to hit him up, talk to him about that.”
But Jones was an elite receiver even as a Crimson Tide freshman. Miller’s still a relative neophyte at his position even if he’s flashed plenty of potential.
He said he’s trimmed down nearly 20 pounds since making the position switch after initially struggling to keep up with his fellow receivers in conditioning runs. Miller has cut old favorites like burgers and fries from his diet.
He at least got a head start at the receiver position instead of making the switch after his college career. Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall switched to cornerback at last year’s Senior Bowl and signed with Jacksonville as a free agent.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who’s leading the North team, has noticed Miller’s improvement even during the first two days of Senior Bowl practices, which wrapped up Thursday.
“I haven’t studied him, but what I do know about him is that he’s an awfully good football player,” Garrett said after Wednesday’s practice. “He demonstrated that at Ohio State and to me the strides he’s made in 48 hours has been significant.
“We’re coaching these guys hard and it’s good to see how well he’s responded to that coaching,” Garrett said. “Clearly a great athlete and a productive football player and someone that has a lot of upside.”