The Bengals love their Buckeyes, but for the first time since they took Dan Wilkinson No. 1 overall 24 years ago they took one in the first round Thursday night when they snapped up Ohio State center Billy Price with the 21st pick.
The 6-3, 305-pound Price also became the first center taken by Cincinnati No. 1 since Nebraska's Dave Rimington in 1983, which works out just right since they're look to spearhead the overhaul of their offensive line with the winner of the Rimington Award as the nation's best center.
"In his history at Nebraska he set the tone for that era of football," said Price, who saw highlights at the award presentation. "Dude just played nasty just finishing guys. He's a highly respected player to this day. That's awesome the connection. I had no idea about that."
Price, out of Austintown, Ohio, took the call from the Bengals in Youngstown as the draft unfolded for them as easily as the five-hour drive to Paul Brown Stadium. Until the Lions stepped up to pick at No. 20.
Before that, as expected, the Bengals' long-shot at nabbing a tackle turned out to be exactly that when Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey went to San Francisco at No. 9. The impact defensive player never slid with the last shot, Florida State safety Derwin James, plucked by the Chargers at No. 17. Another tackle, UCLA's Kolton Miller, didn't appear to be in their mix at 21 and it didn't matter when Oakland took him at No. 15.
Also as expected, that presumably left Price and the draft's other top center, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow. It's believed they were their highest graded players on their board and there wasn't much to choose between the two. Reports had the Bengals taking Ragnow but their grades were believed to be virtually identical.
So although the Lions stunned them by picking Ragnow, the Bengals were just as happy to smoothly move to Price's impeccable resume that includes a Buckeye-record 55 straight starts and starts period, two captaincies, and the Ourlads Scouting Services observation, "Smart and instinctive who has good situational awareness … A mature and stable blocker who is productive and consistent. Will be a day one starter."
They need an Opening Day starter with Russell Bodine in Buffalo as head coach Marvin Lewis gets a center drafted higher than the fourth round for his first time in 16 years. And Lewis and his coaches were delighted with the selection of Price after he doused them with his outsized personality at the NFL scouting combine and a few weeks ago during a visit to PBS.
And what better source than Ohio State? Price is poised to become the 29th Buckeye to play for the Bengals, by far the most of any school on the club's alumni list.
Life is good for new Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack. He gets a left tackle in a trade for the Bills' Cordy Glenn and a center with the first pick they got in the trade. Pollack, the former Super Bowl 49er who simmers with intensity, loves his "all-business" style and his tough, Midwestern approach to the game that Price says isn't much different than Rimington's.
"I try to impose my will on people and be able to finish guys and be able to set that tone," Price said. "Make it a war the people across from me mentally. And physically."
It's believed Pollack is looking to tweak the way the Bengals execute their zone runs and in Price he's got an athletic guy niftier in space than Ragnow and a reliable student that made line calls.
And the Bengals wanted Price for his intangibles as much as the obvious. That he is their Opening Day center Sept. 9 in Indianapolis.
"He's athletic, he's fluid. He pulls well. He can run and adjust in space," Pollack said. "He's advanced to the technical football stand point on the field and in the classroom. He's great for an O-line. It's what you want."
The Bengals' interior front was ripped for not being stout last year, but Pollack, clearly with making a set pocket for quarterback Andy Dalton in mind, said Price's strength is "anchoring."
Price suffered an incomplete tear of his pectoral muscle during the bench press at the NFL scouting combine early last month, but doctors earlier this week said he's rehabbed from surgery well enough to be ready to go for training camp.
And on Thursday Price confirmed it saying he'll be ready to go in two months. Which means he'll miss the spring workouts but that's it because offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he won't miss practices in pads.
Cincinnati Bengals draft center Billy Price from Ohio State with 21st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.