In the middle of the Bengals’ NFL Draft first round news conference, Dave Lapham, the former Bengals offensive lineman turned radio analyst, asked new offensive line coach Frank Pollack to name Billy Price’s biggest strength. Pollack started with just one word:
Every offensive lineman, every player really, has a defining trait entering the league. Even the players who don’t pan out in the NFL. When Paul Alexander talked about Cedric Ogbuehi just after the Bengals drafted him with the same pick they took Price with three years ago (No. 21), the first things he talked about were his feet and athleticism. He wasn’t wrong, Ogbuehi’s quickness in his lower half remains a positive to his game.
Pollack is not wrong about what he likes about Price the most either. And it just so happens it’s a strength the Bengals have not been accustomed to in the center of the offensive line.
You have heard me talk about anchoring a lot if you read my film reviews. It’s the ability to “sit down” in pass protection and absorb and re-distribute force taken on. For interior offensive lineman who deal with bull rushes and stunts all game, its importance is paramount. And the balance, ankle flexion and core strength required to possibly regain leverage and re-anchor after a defender gets under your pads can save a play from utter destruction. In a phrase, it’s strength in pass protection.
Quarterback Andy Dalton’s poise in the pocket is not one of his strengths. But too many times his protection collapsed from the inside almost instantaneously, and the culprit was often the same. Russell Bodine has always been a top heavy player who lacked the ability to anchor and recover. In his four years in Cincinnati, the hope was that he would be able to mitigate his lack of core strength and shorter frame by developing precise hand usage and striking ability, but that never came to fruition.
Now, the Bengals have someone who they think can develop those traits, and like Pollack says, can definitely drop an anchor.
In a phrase, anchoring is putting strength to use in pass protection. Like Bodine, Price has immense upper body brawn, and a shorter than average frame. He was expected to lead all centers at the combine in the bench press, and he actually topped the Ohio State weight room with 36 reps last year. Everyone knows Price is a bull. The difference between him and Bodine is his hands are quicker off the snap, and he can keep his feet under him.
Price only started 14 games at center for the Buckeyes, but showed no troubles of snapping the ball in shotgun (something that gave Bodine fits early on) and also acclimated well to getting his hands up after the snap and into the chest of the nose tackle. This already puts him in a favorable position development-wise in terms of minimizing the impact his short arms can have against him in pass protection. Prior to playing at center, he played at guard, which is another reason the Bengals love him. He has the ability to play both spots, if needed.
Leverage is a big part of Price’s game as well; he consistently keeps his pad level stable and in a position to strike defenders up. Not every rep is picture perfect though, and some longer defenders are able to enter his chest. But Price has shown to be physically capable of maintaining effective lower body bend in his waist, knees and ankles to re-position and “anchor” down to take over the leverage advantage once again. This is why the drills that measure flexibility in the hips and ankles, the short shuttle and 3-cone are so important for interior offensive lineman.
Unfortunately, Price was unable to participate in such drills at the combine because of his injury he suffered the day before, so we won’t know for sure what his times would’ve been. But those drills are so translatable to what can be seen on film. I believe he would have tested well in them. For reference, Bodine’s short shuttle and 3-cone times put him in the 43rd and 2nd percentile, respectively.
When addressing the biggest holes on the roster, it feels like teams will focus on players whose strengths directly counter the weaknesses of the players they’re replacing. The emphasis on getting the offensive line back to at least a passable level was very clear this offseason. Ultimately, the Bengals went out and got a center who, at least in one important facet of the game, is a clear upgrade over the man who has held the spot for the past four years.