COLUMBUS, Ohio -- From one spot over on the offensive line, Billy Price had an up-close view of how the plan works.
Put off the NFL draft for a season, take all the experience from guard and slide over to center. Fine-tune the art of snapping. Solidify a leadership role as the anchor of the unit, add to a legacy as a captain, win some national hardware and boost the NFL draft stock along the way.
Ohio State might as well simply call it the Pat Elflein Plan. And after it worked so well last year in a transition that turned Elflein into a Rimington Trophy winner during his only season at center, Price and the Buckeyes are going right back to the well as offseason conditioning kicked into high gear this week.
“This is kind of a decision that was made a while ago, just kept things low-key, kept them private just due to the fact that I needed to focus on the team and not be a distraction,” Price said after the loss in the College Football Playoff. “I’m going to try to follow Pat’s step, Pat’s lead. The transformation I’ve been able to make over four years, following behind Pat; that’s going to be tough losing him. Taylor Decker was a huge part of this, Jacoby Boren -- those guys set the culture. It’s my job to lead them next year.
“Probably going to wind up playing center, going to lead the team, myself and [left tackle] Jamarco [Jones], and we’re going to go and we’re going to do some work next year.”
The Buckeyes have plenty to accomplish as they overhaul an offense that was effectively nonexistent in the loss to Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and improving the blocking up front will be a top priority on the to-do list. Despite his All-America status and three years of experience, Price has consistently taken some blame for the deficiencies last season, and after the loss to the Tigers he referenced the fact he “didn’t play very well” as at least part of his decision to return for his senior season.
The chance to go out on a high note was also a factor for Elflein a year ago, along with the opportunity to show his versatility up front and provide stability for a team that was lacking experience around him. And while the situations weren’t completely identical for a variety of reasons, Price is certainly aware of just how much benefit can come from that extra year and the position switch -- and now the standard he’ll have to live up to as well.
“I wasn’t surprised by any means,” Price said. “Pat is a very gifted athlete and he works his butt off and he deserves every recognition he’s gotten this season. He put the work in; that’s first and foremost. Again, if you change positions and you change your whole mindset and you need to learn the offense better and a different position and perspective, you have to put the work in, and that’s what Pat did.
“And I’m a team guy. Whatever the team needs, I’ll do. If coach wants me to go play slot receiver, I’m going to play slot receiver.”
The Buckeyes will probably just stick with a move within the unit up front. And, again like Elflein before him, Price took reps at center during practice this past season in case he needed to fill in.
That workload is set to dramatically increase moving forward. And if Price can come close to matching the impact Elflein had for a line that this year will have three other returning starters around their newly converted center, the Buckeyes could be in great shape.
“We have talked about it and I’ve given him my advice and what I thought,” Elflein said before the Fiesta Bowl. “It was a no-brainer for me and it’s paid off 1,000 percent. I don’t think you could ask for a better fifth year.
“Obviously looking at the next level, being able to be versatile and play all three interior positions, I thought, would be good. And I think it was a good idea to have your most experienced lineman at the center position and make all the calls and kind of keep everyone on the same page. So it just all kind of fell into place.”
The Elflein Plan worked out perfectly. Now it’s time for Ohio State to pass it on to Price.