Aug. 8, 2017

by Chris Cullum | Athletics Communications Assistant

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes suited up for practice number nine earlier this week, just a few days after their first scrimmage of the 2017 season.

Among other things, the offensive line received high praise from the coaching staff, with some saying they were the best unit on the field. Head coach Urban Meyer made a point to call out the O-line on Monday when asked about how the offense as a whole was doing so far.

“Still too early, but I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Meyer said of the offense. “I just like the chemistry in the offensive staff room, which we all know how important those type of things are. But I think the one area that’s really improved is the offensive line play, too. Obviously that’s where this whole thing starts.”

Ohio State returns four starters along the offensive line this season: Billy Price, Jamarco Jones, Isaiah Prince, and Michael Jordan. All four started each of OSU’s 13 games last season, accumulating over 900 offensive snaps apiece. At a place on the field that demands chemistry between each individual member of the unit, a season’s worth of experience playing shoulder to shoulder should serve as a great foundation for what should be a bounce-back year.

The season-ending loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff and the regular season loss to Penn State earned the Buckeyes plenty of outside criticism, but there’s nothing you can do about past performances except learn from them.

“When you face and you see that, you really look at what you need to do,” said offensive line coach Greg Studrawa. “Now all of a sudden how you approach things is different. How you go out there and approach practice is different. Because you know those little mistakes by an offensive line are going to get blown up and be on the front page. So now you pay attention. You fight, you strain, you don’t let those things happen.”

All signs point to an offensive resurgence this season, including along the O-line. Its two elder statesmen, Price and Jones, will be among those tasked to make sure that happens.

“Just technique and fighting more,” Jones said about the differences between this year and last. “You have to strain at the end of plays. There were a lot of times we didn’t strain to finish plays, and that’s where some of those bad things happened last year. So it’s just about fighting to finish plays, even one or two extra seconds might give the quarterback enough time to get the ball off.”

“We have to make sure it’s every day,” Price said when asked about the line’s scrimmage performance. “We did have a really good scrimmage on Saturday. But the ball doesn’t stop on Saturday, we don’t line up on Saturday. We need to make sure that on August 31 we’re ready to go.”

Price, an All-American in 2016, will be sliding over from guard to center, while Jones will again be tasked with protecting J.T. Barrett’s blind side over at left tackle. The pair of seniors have played in 80 combined games for the Buckeyes, with Price having started 41 consecutive contests. They have thrived in the trenches, they have won big games and made big plays. They’re job this year is to make sure Jordan, Prince, and the other yet-to-be-named starting guard are on board as well, a fact Jones knows as well.

“It’s all five of us, we have to work together,” Jones said. “If we’re not all in synch, if one person messes up, we give up a sack. That’s the thing about the offensive line, we have to go 100 percent, each one of us, on every play or else we’re going to give up a sack or tackle for loss.”

As the new starting center, Price will face the same challenges Pat Elflein had in 2016 when he made the same move. He parlayed a fantastic season into an All-American nod and Rimington Award, as well as a high selection in this spring’s NFL Draft. Though it’s still very early, all indications are that Price is heading down a similar path.

“It’s been smooth,” he said of the transition to center. “There’s a lot more accountability, making sure I understand the offense. When we’re in meetings, because I’m a fifth-year guy and kind of the voice of the offensive line, there are a lot of things I have to make sure I understand completely. Otherwise we’ll go on the field and look like idiots. And that’s something I can’t let us do.”

With a little over three weeks left to prepare for the first game of the season, it certainly sounds like this offensive line unit is trending upwards heading into 2017.