COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although Ohio State is set to return 15 starters this season, the Buckeyes still have holes to fill. That includes the void left by Ohio State’s first major national award winner since 2008, Pat Elflein.
Selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of last month’s NFL draft, Elflein leaves Columbus as one of the most accomplished offensive linemen in Buckeyes history. He is the lone departure from a 2016 Ohio State offensive line that was strong on the ground, but susceptible when the Buckeyes were trying to pass.
Fortunately, Ohio State already knows that returning senior Billy Price will replace Elflein at center, after spending the first three seasons of his college career as a guard. An All-America selection in 2016, Price possesses the potential to be one of the top centers in the country.
But when it comes to who will replace Elflein as Ohio State’s fifth offensive lineman, that still remains up in the air. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Buckeyes are replacing — and how they might do it.
Like Price, Elflein spent the first three seasons of his college career as a guard before moving to center as a senior. Per Pro Football Focus, Elflein “produced good run-blocking grades all three years,” but “struggled with pass protection in 2016 yielding 3 sacks, 2 hits and 11 QB hurries.”
Nevertheless, Elflein won last season’s Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation’s top center. Although Ohio State’s new starting offensive lineman will be playing right guard as Price transitions to center, it’s important to note the caliber of player the Buckeyes will be missing.
Five primary candidates stand out as Ohio State’s next starting right guard.
A former 4-star prospect, Burrell has yet to earn any significant playing time in his college career. He did, however, put together a strong spring, making the most of the reps he received at right guard with the Buckeyes’ first-team offensive line.
Another formerly highly touted player, Knox is hoping 2017 will be his breakout campaign. After entering the offseason as the front-runner to start at right guard, academic issues kept the redshirt junior out of a portion of spring practice. He returned to the field to play in the spring game, but seems to trail Burrell at this point.
After arriving at Ohio State as a JUCO transfer a year ago, Pridgeon missed the entirety of his first season with the Buckeyes because of a knee injury. Meyer has mentioned the former 4-star prospect as a candidate to provide depth at multiple positions across the line.
An early enrollee, Myers is still adapting to playing guard after arriving at Ohio State as a 4-star offensive tackle. The Miamisburg, Ohio, native saw playing time at the position during the spring game but is most likely headed for a redshirt season.
The top-ranked offensive guard in the 2017 class, Davis won’t arrive in Columbus until June. And while he may need some time to acclimate to the college level, his talent should allow for a quick adjustment.
What Ohio State’s coaches are saying
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer: “Matt Burrell has had a good few days, and he’s rolling through the ones. Not just with Knox but with Mike Jordan – we’re [rotating] to get competition at that spot. Malcolm Pridgeon is just a matter of learning the offense because he’s got all the tools and he’s a great person.”
By the time spring practice had come to an end, Burrell had emerged as the team’s clear-cut front-runner to start at right guard. But with so many options available on the Buckeyes’ roster, his spot is far from secure, and he’ll need a strong fall camp to remain in the starting lineup come Week 1.
Burrell’s toughest competition would likely come from Knox — provided he can remain clear of additional academic issues. The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Pridgeon is also an intriguing option, although he may be better suited as a reserve offensive tackle.