Billy Price went from becoming a first-round draft pick and starting center last year to opening this season as a back-up interior lineman.
Now, the Cincinnati Bengals likely will need him back in the starting lineup as rookie left guard Michael Jordan is expected to miss Sunday’s game at Buffalo (2-0) with a knee injury.
Price, the 2017 Rimington Trophy winner for college football’s top center, has been practicing at guard this week and said he is prepared to step in wherever necessary. Head coach Zac Taylor indicated Wednesday that Price would be the starting left guard if Jordan is unavailable.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for myself to showcase that I’m multi-talented and not just playing center and understanding an offense, but playing guard as well,” Price said. “We have great chemistry in the room. Whoever is plug-and-play puts a great opportunity for that guy to go out and put some great film on there and we’re excited to do it.”
A foot injury set Price back during the preseason and by the time he began practicing, Hopkins already was starting to perform at a high level. Price ultimately couldn’t do enough to knock him off the top of the depth chart, and the Bengals settled on Jordan as the left guard.
Week 1 came and went with Price on the bench for all 75 offensive snaps – only coming in on five special teams plays – and he didn’t come in until the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to San Francisco, when Jordan left on a cart.
“(It’s been) trying, kind of a mental roller-coaster, but that’s part of the sport,” Price said. “You have put your nose to the grindstone and get better and do what the coaches ask you to. If it’s play left guard this week, play right guard next week, play center, you have do whatever you can for the coaches and whatever you can for the franchise and the team.”
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On his 10th of 15 offensive snaps Sunday, Price was called for a hold that nullified a Tyler Boyd touchdown catch, which he believed shouldn’t have been flagged.
Price played guard his first three years at Ohio State before replacing Rimington winner Pat Elflein at center his senior year in 2017. He hadn’t played guard in a game since the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson to end the 2016 season and admitted he was a little rusty Sunday.
“You get six reps a week at first team guard so out of a whole week of practice sometimes it can get a little rusty, but (it felt) good,” Price said. “We’re going to get back into it this week and continue to grind and put out whatever the best we can for coach and make sure we go get a victory.”
Taylor wasn’t ready to assess Price after such limited snaps Sunday, but said he has enough confidence in him at guard to simply swap the two former Ohio State players rather than creating two changes by moving center Trey Hopkins and inserting Price.
The first-year head coach said he is “excited to see what Billy brings to the table” when given more opportunity.
“I have full confidence that Billy can play center as well, but there’s just no need to do that,” Taylor said. “Billy did a good job in training camp for us at guard. We really had a starter (with Billy) that just wasn’t playing for us. If Billy needs to step in, we have full confidence in him.”
It didn’t help Price on Sunday that he had been sitting for three-and-a-half quarters when his number was called at a moment’s notice, and the game was already out of reach for the Bengals when Price came in. He’s best known for his run-blocking but the ship had sailed on that.
Price said he did his best to try to get into a rhythm, but he has no doubt he can find it this week, even against a strong Buffalo front seven that features rookie first-round draft pick Ed Oliver at tackle and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who gave Price trouble in the preseason.
“With their front seven, I was watching a little bit of their preseason games against Indy and Detroit yesterday, a lot of their stuff their linebackers played real quick,” Price said. “They’re three and a half, four yards off the ball at most. And they trigger quick, and now. That’s something that takes guys off of double teams, so you’ve got to really hone in on those details, the angles, the hand placement, all those different types of elements so you can go out there and execute.”
It’s no secret Price is hoping to do enough to win the job back permanently, but he’s trying not to look beyond this week. Taylor upgraded Jordan to “day-to-day” Wednesday, noting the injury isn’t as bad as it initially seemed, so he could have a decision to make sooner than expected.
“You have focus on the moment,” Price said. “’m not worried about Pittsburgh or any other thing — I’m worried about Buffalo right now. Those guys deserve the respect and we’ve got to put a good collection of good body of work on offense and start executing better and do those little things Coach Taylor talks about before you can start looking ahead. Pray Mike gets healthy and fight our butts off competing to make sure that’s the best five out there on the field.”
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