With four of five starting offensive linemen from last year’s national championship-winning squad due back for the upcoming season, the past five weeks of spring practices might have been viewed as a chance for the returnees — senior Taylor Decker, redshirt-junior Pat Elflein, senior Jacoby Boren and redshirt-sophomore Billy Price — to get additional reps while finding a replacement for Darryl Baldwin.
But of the four returning starters, only Price spent spring practice getting substantial reps while the other three were constrained by various factors.
For Boren, it was an injury suffered against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl that held him out. Decker and Elflein were healthy, but coach Urban Meyer chose to limit them in practice because they have each been through the grind of extensive live reps in the past.
With his linemates limited, Price did not waste the extra practice time he received in spring ball, Meyer said. Price’s play even prompted his coach to say he is “night and day” from where he was last year.
“Billy Price is playing outstanding football for us right now,” Meyer said.
For Buckeyes offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, one thing in particular has stood out when it comes to Price’s development.
“A player with talent without confidence doesn’t always play up to his ability level,” Warinner said. “Billy has confidence now. He’s just so confident in what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it that now his talent just shows.”
Price echoed what his coaches said.
“Night and day,” Price said of his growth. “It’s like watching a kid grow up. I didn’t play since high school (before last fall) and to come in and begin to develop myself, to become the player I am and to become the player I’m continuing to become, it’s pretty cool.”
Price said his confidence was put into place during OSU’s final three games last year — which resulted in wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“Something was finally starting to click with me. It was a confidence thing,” Price said. “You go through a 12-game season, then you get into playoff and championship season and you become another guy.”
Before getting a chance for his confidence to blossom in 2014, the coaches had to make a decision as to where on the offensive line Price would play. With the ability to play both guard and center, he recalled a conversation with Warinner before last season’s opener versus Navy that decided which of the two he would play.
“He said, ‘Hey, we want to get you on the field. Do you mind playing guard?’ And I said, ‘Oh, absolutely not. Whatever I can do to help this team,’” Price said.
The redshirt-sophomore added that the versatility to play both interior line spots helps him “add value” to the team, which proved to be true again during this year’s spring. With Boren, last season’s starting center, injured, Price took some reps at both positions.
Price said he has a slight “bias” toward playing the center position because while calling out protections and such, you are “the big dog” or the “conductor.” But the redshirt-sophomore stressed that for him, it’s all about helping the team in whatever way that he needs to.
This spring, in addition to improving his technique and strength, he helped the team with something else: leadership. With Decker, Elfein and Boren limited, the younger guys have looked to Price for guidance, he said.
“When you go into things with guys who have no experience, you have to take that leadership (role) and continue to develop your communication skills,” Price said. “People lean on you. When you’re not practicing or in a set, and a guy says to you, ‘Oh man, you can definitely tell when you’re not in,’ it’s a confidence booster.”
Price was able to carry over his development from the end of last year to this spring. With spring practices now over, he will have to continue to do the same. During the summer, Price said he, along with the younger players, will work on their technique and “continue to develop” in preparation for practice resuming in August.
That development is scheduled to be on display when the Buckeyes open their regular season on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va., against Virginia Tech.