COLUMBUS, Ohio – With 10 days before the Buckeyes’ first game of 2016, Pat Elflein had his first full practice on Wednesday.
“I feel great,” Elflein told a group of media gathered at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday night. “I’ve been doing a lot of drills and, like I said, I got some reps today — full-go reps — and it feels great.”
Greg Studrawa, Ohio State’s new offensive line coach, confirmed that. Elflein is healthy, he’s just been brought back slowly since arthroscopic surgery was performed in May to remove a small cyst that had developed in his left shoulder.
“I think he’s 100 percent, we’ve just been bringing him along slow. He’s been, in the past couple days, doing some things,” Studrawa said. “You notice a little bit of solidification when he’s in there making the calls, the confidence and those kind of things. That’s been really, really pleasant the past couple days.
“I think moving forward he’ll take more and more reps and get back in there and that’s the anchor that solidifies those things. Everybody has a lot of confidence in him — and I’m talking about those guys (players) — not only us, the players that around him have confidence with him being in there.”
When he’s not been in there, though, Elflein has not been taking time off. He’s been teaching and guiding an inexperienced offensive line group desperate for leaders to emerge. Redshirt junior Billy Price and Elflein — who turned down a shot at the NFL at the end of last season to return for his fifth year at Ohio State — are the only members of Studrawa’s offensive line to have started a game in their career. The Buckeyes assistant coach said last week that Elflein’s contributions can’t be measured only in snaps played.
“I don’t think I have words to describe it,” Studrawa said at Ohio State’s media day about Elflein’s influence. “Kids go in the locker room, or in the weight room, or the cafeteria, what’s going on, what’s being said — when you have a leader like Pat it’s unbelievable. You have another coach on the field. You have a guy that knows how it’s supposed to be done, how to get it down, how to get on guys when they’re not working hard. He knows how to put an arm around them when they’re having a tough day. When you have that guy, it makes my job 10 times easier. Pat is that guy.”
Being “that guy” may come easy to Elflein, but it’s not been easy for him over these past few months. He wants to be the guy leading his teammates on and off the field and the last few months have been difficult as he’s been forced to watch from the sidelines.
“That was hard sitting back and trying to be in there and lead the guys, but when you’re not in there, it’s not the same as when you are in there,” Elflein said. “You’re not going through what they’re going through at the same time, so that was difficult. That’s when Billy (Price) and Jamarco (Jones) have to step up.”
Price, getting ready to start alongside Elflein for the third straight year, says that the Pickerington, Ohio, native being around — even if he’s not playing — has helped do just that. Elflein is helping and Jones is emerging.
“If I’m playing center or whatever the case may be, and (Elflein) is observing the drill, having his expertise, him being able to see things a little better to say ‘Hey, the center is going to do this, so we need to do this.’ Having that extra person behind you helps a lot,” Price said Wednesday. “We had a play, it was kind of a questionable defense, and I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I go off of Jamarco and he’s like, ‘No, run it this way.’ Jamarco’s been able to really grow (as a leader) and that’s been really, really helpful for him.
“Playing left tackle at the Ohio State University, you don’t take it lightly and he’s been able to really grow with that, taking steps.”
For his part, Jones agreed that Elflein’s impact is tangible despite the questions about his shoulder’s strength.
“He’s still — he’s not on the field with us — but he watches practice and he sees what’s going on out there,” Jones said of the Buckeyes captain. “If he sees something that we might not see, from the sideline, he’ll tell us. In film, he stills gets on us. If he sees people doing things he doesn’t like, he’ll jump on people. He’s being there as a leader still, even if he’s not physically out there playing with us.”
Elflein will be back out there physically playing next Saturday. If you’re a Buckeyes fan, he says there are no reasons have concerns about his health, his preparation or the fact that he’s going to start at center after primarily playing guard the last three years. Elflein is good to go for Ohio State’s opener against Bowling Green. Heck, he’s even “code green,” the team’s barometer for being game ready.
“I’ve played center the past two, three years – always backup, taking reps – so I’ve been comfortable in that transition,” Elflein said. “It’s going good and I’m feeling comfortable there. We have a checklist, different things, that have to be ready to go for the game, for the coach, to trust you — to put you in the game. There’s a list of things that have to be done. When that specific skill or task is ready, then you put a green cross through it, which means it’s game ready.
“I’m code green. It’s a go.”