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Bengals’ Billy Price won’t let his injury keep from being the next great NFL OL out of Ohio State

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“I’m fine. Everyone’s making a big deal about it,” said Price, who is right on track to return to the field in June.

It was during his third rep on the bench press at the NFL Combine when he felt something strange. He didn’t miss a single game during his four-year career at Ohio State, and now NFL prospect Billy Price was headed to the medical facilities before getting to perform any of the on-field drills.

Price, a top-rated center in this year’s draft class, suffered a partially torn pec during the event and would eventually undergo surgery. Dealing with an injury at the combine isn’t all that uncommon, but what was surprising was that Price waited around to finish his press conference rotation before following up on his injury.

He said that he didn’t want to run from the news.

“I’m glad I did that,” Price said at Ohio State’s pro day. “To hear it from me, to make sure I can set the record straight. I control the narrative and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be fine. I can show you everything you want to see. It’s not as significant as everyone is making it to be.’”

Price, who met with teams and reporters at his pro day despite not being able to participate in drills, said the media seemed to be making it a bigger deal than it was. That includes what he’s heard from doctors, as well as from NFL teams and O-line coaches, who have given him assurance that other players have gone through the same kind of injury and come back even stronger.

Regardless, an injury that keeps a rookie out of most workouts ahead of training camp is concerning. But it didn’t cause him to fall out of the first round — the Bengals drafted him with the No. 21 pick.

Price is the latest versatile offensive lineman from Ohio State

Price debuted as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and he not only played in all 55 games during his career at Ohio State, he also started in each one. He went on to be a two-time All-American, a two-time team captain, and the winner of the Rimington Trophy in 2017, given to the nation’s top center.

More impressively, Price only played center his senior season for the Buckeyes after lining up at both left and right guard his first three years in Columbus — the same winding path as Pat Elflein before him. Elflein was a third-round pick for the Vikings last year and became an immediate contributor to the Minnesota offense.

Since 2014, five offensive linemen out of Ohio State have been starters as NFL rookies: Elflein, Taylor Decker, Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, and Andrew Norwell. That should give teams another reason to trust that Price will be able to make the transition from college to NFL. As SB Nation’s Geoff Schwartz, a former NFL lineman himself, noted, not many schools are known to produce pro-ready OL, but Ohio State is one of them.

Price’s experience and success at both positions adds to his sales pitch. He wasn’t able to show how fast and explosive he can be during the combine and pro day, but his game film should give teams enough to be encouraged about heading into the draft. He’s shown that he is an aggressive player with great awareness of his hand placement, but will need to work on his pass protection as he gets ready for a whole new level of competition.

Price was optimistic the injury wouldn’t hurt his stock.

“You really hope it doesn’t impact it, but again I’m not the one who gets to make that decision,” Price said at Ohio State’s pro day.

For a while, it looked like Price might fall out of the first round

Free agency can change the needs for teams, but Price was a consistent first-round projection in many mock drafts heading into the combine. He was sitting at the No. 29 pick in Dan Kadar’s mock draft in late February.

Since then, he was more likely to be found into the middle of the second roundif not later. A Round 2 pick seems to be the latest consensus. He wasn’t not included in the first round of Kadar’s mock draft, which has the Bengals taking another center instead of Price in the first round: Iowa’s James Daniels. “If Price didn’t tear his left pectoral muscle at the NFL Scouting Combine, he may have been the choice,” Kadar wrote.

The CBS mocks and analysts at NFL.com have mostly removed Price from their first rounds, as well.

But drafts are notoriously hard to predict, especially when teams start making draft-day trades. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising for Price to sneak back into the end of the first round. There’s also strategy involved — teams interested in Price might show reservations about his injury to scare off others, hoping he falls to them.

It wasn’t surprising that an incoming player with the talent level of Price — and from a school with a long history of producing successful NFL linemen — would slide too far, especially considering the relatively low cost of a rookie deal.

Still, an injury that requires a four-month recovery period can be a red flag.

He expects to be back in action by early summer

Price anticipates being back on the field for training camp and being a full participant in his first preseason as a rookie. At Ohio State’s pro day on March 22, he said he had just gotten his stitches out last week and had a clear timeline for the next steps in his rehab.

“I should be good by June,” Price said at his pro day, and things still seem to be on track for his return.

In early April, he tweeted he was no longer wearing a sling:

Price went back to Indianapolis for the combine recheck at the end of last week and told SB Nation, “Recheck went excellent, I’ll be cleared by June from my surgeon.” He also said the doctors at the recheck were surprised with how quickly he’s recovering, and more importantly, that he “did not lose muscle mass” in his left side.

There’s still a long way to go before he’s back in the mix and participating in on-field drills, but he’s progressing well and is ready to make an impact right away for the Bengals.

As Price said at his pro day, “I’ll be bench pressing, be full strength again, choking dudes out here by the time training camp comes.”