For the third time in four seasons the Cincinnati Bengals used their first-round pick in the NFL Draft on a player recovering from a surgery, but Billy Price and his new coaching staff expect the former Ohio State center to be 100 percent healthy by training camp, if not sooner.
“He obviously had to jump through the medical hoops, which he did, and obviously with flying colors, which is sometimes a very difficult thing to do here,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Billy came out on the good side of that. The doctors feel good about him being ready to go sometime late this summer. He may get some work in before we take the break (after minicamp), but for sure when we get to training camp he’ll be ready to go.”
Price tore a pectoral muscle while bench pressing at the NFL Scouting Combine last month.
“It was sickening to be honest with you,” he said. “Your stomach just drops. After the next day when I got the MRI images, I saw it was a partial tear and not a complete tear.
“Because it was a minor tear, we had the option of either going through the surgery and expediting (the recovery) or wait and have that potential for it to fully heal,” Price added. “In the case where it didn’t fully heal and I didn’t go through surgery, the risk of re-injuring it was significantly higher. So we thought it was better to get the surgery, you’ll be good before training camp and will be 100 percent healthy.”
Price joins wide receiver John Ross (2017) and tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (2015) as recent Bengals first-round picks recovering from surgery. William Jackson was healthy when the Bengals took him in the first round in 2016 but suffered a pectoral tear in training camp and missed his entire rookie season.
Despite Price’s confidence in his recovery, he wasn’t sure how far he would fall down team’s draft boards and was stunned when his phone rang.
“I sat there and looked at my phone,” he said. ” I looked at my agent and said, ‘Holy (crap). It’s Cincinnati.’ He’s like ‘Well, you’ve got to answer the phone.’
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling right now,” added Price, a Youngstown native. “I’m oozing with emotions right now because this is exactly what I wanted in this draft, for me to be able to go as high as possible and to stay home in Ohio, to stay in the Midwest and to bring the brand of Ohio State football down to Cincinnati and to completely be able to do everything, all my hopes and dreams for the NFL.”
Price is the fourth center the Bengals have selected in the first round, joining Bob Johnson (1968), Blair Bush (1978) and Dave Rimington (1983), and he fills the team’s most glaring hole after four-year starter Russell Bodine signed a free-agent contract with Buffalo.
Arkansas’s Frank Ragnow, Iowa’s James Daniels and Price were considered the top three centers in the draft. Ragnow went one pick earlier to Detroit at 20, while Daniels remains available heading into Friday’s second and third rounds.
This is just the second time since 1968 that two centers went in the first round. Cleveland took Alex Mack 21st and Buffalo selected Eric Wood 28th in 2009.
Those two have combined to go to six Pro Bowls, and the Bengals see similar potential in Price, a four-year starter at Ohio State.
“Whether it be the first time that I watched him on film, or meeting him at the Combine, when he walks out of that room everybody looks at each other and says, ‘Wow, this is the guy you want to have on your team,’” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “You have a chance as a whole offensive staff to study how he played, and then having him here on a visit, just every time he kept pushing higher and higher.”
Added offensive line coach Frank Pollack, “He’s been well-coached and he’s advanced, obviously, with some of the things he’s doing. He’s real good with his hands. He was a lot of fun to watch on tape that way.
“He has similar traits to Travis, where he’s a very strong player, very sound, plays with his hips and feet beneath him,” Pollack added, referring to Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, whom he coached in Dallas. “He’s a guy that you can anchor in front of the quarterback, which is so valuable from the center position, especially in this division with some big nose guards and interior players. He can really solidify that pocket. He’s going to be a great add for us.”
Price started at guard as a freshman for an Ohio State team that went on to win the national championship. He didn’t play center until his senior season after center Pat Elflein left for the NFL.
He said his expectations are even higher than those of his new coaches.
“My goal is to set this league on fire from Day 1,” Price said. “For me it’s that expectation to go and earn a starting job, to compete from Day 1, to be that plug-and-play player at center or guard or whatever the team wanted. There’s a lot of pride coming with me. I have sky high expectations for myself.”