Center of attention: Bengals take Ohio State's Billy Price
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By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI (AP) Billy Price was ready to show off his strength at the NFL combine. During the bench press, the center from Ohio State felt a pain in his chest and thought his chances were ruined.
It all turned out far better than he'd hope on Thursday night.
The Bengals took the center with the 21st overall pick, another addition to their biggest problem area. After watching four quarterbacks go higher in the round, they got someone to protect their own. And as it turned out, he comes from right up the road.
Price grew up in eastern Ohio - his stepfather was from Pittsburgh so he says he "unfortunately" grew up as a Steelers fan - and hoped he could stay in-state in the NFL, although it was a long shot. The chest injury was a severe setback to his chances of getting chosen high in the draft.
"The injury happens and the next thing you're thinking, `Shoot, I'm done,'" Price said in a conference call. "Your stomach just drops. Man, it's like who knows what's going to happen?"
After spending time with him at the combine, the Bengals were convinced he was a good fit as they try to dig their offense out of an all-time low. Cincinnati finished last in the league in yards in 2017 - it had never done so poorly - and the running game was among the worst in club history.
The main problem was a line that couldn't protect Andy Dalton or open holes for the running game. They knew what had to change.
The Bengals' draft maneuvering started a month ago when they traded the No. 12 overall pick to Buffalo for the 21st pick and left tackle Cordy Glenn , a significant upgrade. They lost center Russell Bodine in the offseason - he signed a two-year deal with Buffalo - and needed someone to anchor the middle of the line.
In their minds, Price was a first-round pick even though he's recovering from the chest injury. He's expected to be ready for training camp. Their meeting at the combine left that much of an impression.
"He walks out of that room and everyone was, `Wow, this is the guy you want to have on your team,'" offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.
Price won't have to go far for their reunion. He was sitting outside his family's home in Youngstown, Ohio during his conference call, only a five-hour drive across Ohio's interstates.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling right now," he said. "This is exactly what I wanted in this draft, to be able to go high and stay home in Ohio. It's unreal right now."
The pick showed how much Cincinnati has made the offensive line its top priority in the offseason. The Bengals hadn't taken a center with their first overall pick since 1983 when they got Dave Rimington. The only other time they took a center with their first pick was the 1968 expansion draft, when they got Bob Johnson.
The Bengals kept Lazor as coordinator - he was the interim last season after Ken Zampese was fired two games into the season. Lazor has been given wide latitude to overhaul the offense, and players have noted the many changes in style.
But none of it will work if they don't have a dependable line.
"He can really solidify the front of that pocket," offensive line coach Frank Pollack said. "It's important. He can be a great add for us."
The Bengals are hoping to get a lot more out of their top pick than they did last season, when they also chose someone coming off an injury.
Receiver John Ross was recovering from shoulder surgery when the Bengals drafted him ninth overall. He suffered another shoulder injury during the season and wound up playing in only three games. Ross didn't have a catch, and the only time he touched the ball was on a reverse ended with a fumble. Ross is expected to be fully recovered from his shoulder injury next season.
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Updated April 26, 2018