When Urban Meyer was asked about the importance of J.T. Barrett to Ohio State in 2016 at Big Ten Media Days Tuesday the head coach turned the attention on another player.
Barrett's return to man the quarterback position would not be nearly as valuable, Meyer said, if not for the return of the man snapping him the ball. Pat Elflein's decision to forgo the NFL for his senior season and slide to center will only amplify how successful Barrett and the Buckeyes can be. Not to mention the fact that Meyer is pretty confident Elflein will be good in his first action in the center of the line.
"Pat Elfein, in my opinion, is the best center in college football," Meyer said.
WIth Elflein manning center for the Buckeyes and Billy Price back for his third go-around starting at left guard, three positions were open along the line after the 2015 season. Jamarco Jones officially filled one of those spots this spring, earning the starting nod at left tackle. Elflein is confident that will work out, predicting Jones to be an All-Big Ten player at that position.
That leaves two spots open for Ohio State on the line and Meyer indicated that the right guard position may be filled by a true freshman.
"I can't wait to watch our offensive line. Michael Jordan is probably going to be -- a true freshman -- will be in the starting lineup," Meyer said this morning. "What I've seen from, his development since he got here in January is outstanding."
Getting playing time as a true freshman under Meyer has been difficult, let alone finding it on the offensive line. At 6-7, 315 pounds it appears that Jordan has the physical makeup to handle the demanding position despite his age.
More importantly, at least in Elflein's eyes, is the fact that Jordan has the right demeanor for the position.
"That nastiness, some guys just have it. He has it," Elflein said of the freshman. "He may not be doing the right thing all the time, but he’s going to try to get after you and pancake you. So he has that which is kind of the foundation for offensive line. If you have that we can work on everything else. You may not step with the right foot, but you are going to take that guy out. That’s kind of how I was. I didn’t’ always step with the right foot, but I would try to get after you If you have that part everything else will fall into place.”
With Jordan predicted to start at guard, the right tackle spot remains the only question mark. Sophomore Isaiah Prince was taking reps there during the spring and is expected to be the leader for that position. Prince, like most young players, needs to grow up some to solidify a starting spot and continue to learn the playbook.
While Prince remains the leader for the right tackle position, another newcomer is expected to challenge him.
JUCO transfer Malcolm Pridgeaon is new to the program, but his athleticism and size would seem to translate to a tackle spot, but he'll have to beat out Prince to earn it.
Regardless of who takes the right tackle spot or if Jordan is indeed able to hold down his presumptive starting spot, the Buckeyes will take the field to open the 2016 season with three new starters and a fourth player in a new position.
After replacing four starters on the line before going on to win the 2014 national championship, Elflein isn't worried.
“It’s not going to happen overnight," Elflein said of the line coming together. 'Kind of like it was in 2014, it didn’t happen right away. Talent-wise, we’re there.”