The 2018 season will be the fourth-consecutive year the Buckeyes will have a new starting center. Despite the constant change, there has been a seamless switchover each year. The argument could be made that center has been Ohio State’s best and most consistent position since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012.
The Buckeyes have gone from Corey Linsley to Jacoby Boren to Pat Elflein to Billy Price, and all four of them were captains. Three of the four (all but Boren) were First-Team All-Big Ten selections and two of the four (Price and Elflein) were First-Team All-Americans and Rimington Award winners as the nation’s top center.
Replacing Billy Price isn’t just about replacing Ohio State’s starting center. Price started more games at Ohio State than any player in school history, which means he has seen more than anybody else as well. His knowledge of the OSU offense will be missed, but his understanding of every nuance of a game will be impossible to replicate. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes won’t replace him successfully, it just means it won’t be as easy as it has been in the past.
Price and Elflein transitioned to center from their positions as starting guards, but it is unlikely that will happen this coming season. Demetrius Knox has finally found a home in the starting lineup and has excelled as the team’s right guard. Michael Jordan has been entrenched at left guard for the past two seasons and doesn’t seem like the center type. Billy Price’s pick to take over for him is veteran backup Brady Taylor.
Taylor has been the backup for the past two seasons and knows the offense and what is required of the center better than anybody else on the roster. Some could ask why he has been passed up in the past by Pat Elflein and Billy Price, but considering those two were the best centers in college football, it’s hard to put that on a lack of performance by Taylor. He has learned from the best, but can he make the same kind of seamless step forward as Boren, Elflein, and Price have in the past?
Someone else to watch will be Matt Burrell, who will be a redshirt junior in 2018. He has spent his entire career at guard, but has also worked at snapping the football throughout his career. The Buckeyes don’t want to go into spring ball without options, and Burrell could be one of those options. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is going to find out who his best five offensive linemen are, and one of them is going to end up being a center whether they’ve been there in the past or not.
There will be a true freshman to watch this spring as Matthew Jones has already enrolled and was the nation’s No. 1 center in the 2017 recruiting class. It would be too much to expect him to win the job this early, but his arrival was important for depth and the future of the position.
Even though it may be unlikely, if one of the young guards emerge as one of the five best linemen, maybe Demetrius Knox would move even further inside. Plenty can still happen through winter workouts, spring ball, and fall camp.
Barring somebody winning the job in winter workouts, there will be a competition at center this spring for the first time in the Urban Meyer Era, which is amazing to think about. Brady Taylor will be competing with somebody, be it Matt Burrell or Demetrius Knox or whichever guard is deemed the best option at snapping and running the offensive line. They need options, and they won’t allow it to simply be Taylor and true freshman Matthew Jones.
The best bet is Brady Taylor and Matt Burrell competing and sharing reps with the first unit. Burrell has taken snaps at center throughout his career, and that goes back to even before he arrived at OSU. Matthew Jones will need to get up to speed in order to provide depth in 2019. Greg Studrawa has coached the last two Rimington winners, so he knows what a great center looks like. Taking a step back isn’t going to be acceptable.
I do not expect a winner this spring, but if there is, consider that a very good thing for the Buckeyes. If there is a winner outright, that means somebody played well enough to remove any doubt, which is exactly what you should want. If the competition is won by default, they will put more contenders in the mix, because “by default” won’t get the job done at the “Apex of the Offense” as Urban Meyer has called the Buckeyes’ center in the past.