“The Vikings’ offensive line was a shipwreck and it seemed far fetched to believe they would land a starter without a first-round pick--unless that starter was Pat Elflein.”
In a franchise where centers are as renowned as the quarterbacks to whom they snap the ball, it is natural that former Ohio State center Pat Elflein is getting a lot of attention. After being taken in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Elflein already has a shot at the starting job, with former center Joe Berger shifting over to right guard.
Of course, it was a long shot that the Vikings would land Elflein in the first place, even though Elflein was generally considered to be a second-round pick. Though centers rarely go in the first round (just nine have been taken in the opening round since 2000), Elflein was a Rimington Award winner, as the nation’s best center, as well as a consensus All-American. When the Vikings chose to use their first pick (No. 41-overall) on Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, they seemed to have all-but given up hope on landing Elflein. But as the third round dawned, Minnesota traded two picks to the New York Jets and snagged the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Elflein has already made an impression on his team as a “smart player,” maintaining awareness throughout a play and being able to actively make decisions on the field. Even former Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon, who is now a teammate of Elflein, credits the center’s play, having faced off on multiple occasions against one another. “Smart guy as well” Gedeon said. “It’s something we always talked about. We had a lot of respect for him.”
Elflein has a good opportunity this summer to acclimate to the NFL as he faces off against one of the league’s best defenses. While it has no doubt been a tough camp, the Viking’s defensive line will be better than most of those Elflein will face week in and week out.
“Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard are beasts off the edge. I can’t imagine there are many more impressive foursomes at defensive end in the nation.”
The Big Ten Network paid a visit to Ohio State’s practice over the weekend and scouted out the talent on the team currently favored to win the Big Ten. Among the storylines heading into the day were the skill of the defensive line and the questions surrounding Kevin Wilson’s new offense. In terms of the defensive line, it would seem that the talent is all that it has been hyped up to be. With four strong options at defensive end, combined with Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers inside at tackle, the line provides a firm foundation for the rest of the defense.
The defensive secondary has also been something of a question in the offseason, given the loss of Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley to the NFL Draft. But it seems that there is plenty of talent left to fill the void, including Damon Arnette, Denzel Ward and Kendall Sheffield alongside a number of freshmen who have impressed in the fall.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior quarterback J.T. Barrett showed his continued dual-threat ability, but in the new context of Wilson’s offense. While in many ways this new philosophy means that Barrett needs to be more patient in the pocket rather than taking off on a run, it also means more chances for downfield passing and breakout plays than Barrett has had in the past. Now, it looks like Barrett may finally have the personnel at receiver to provide such a downfield threat with a number of options including the 6-foot-4 Binjimen Victor.
In front of Barrett, the offensive line, though returning four starters, still has gaps to fill on the right side. With Billy Price moving to center, the right guard spot remains up for grabs. And Isaiah Prince will need to be more consistent at right tackle.
“This is the most unselfish, humble group that I’ve ever been around. Probably--not probably--the most talented group I’ve ever been around. They are all about each other. That’s what makes it fun to come to work every day with these guys.”
Greg Schiano has an impressive coaching resume, having coached on staffs for the Chicago Bears and Miami Hurricanes before earning head coaching gigs at Rutgers and Tampa Bay. All the while, Schiano earned a reputation for a strong defensive mind, so it is striking when he credits one of his current defensive units as the best he has ever seen--including in his time in the NFL. “It is and it’s not a joke,” Schiano said of his defensive line at Ohio State.
Schiano’s defensive line while in Tampa Bay was, in fact, quite impressive in itself, featuring Gerald McCoy, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, defensive end Michael Bennett, who himself was selected to two Pro Bowls after leaving Tampa Bay, and former Iowa great and first-round pick Adrian Clayborn. Granted, Schiano’s 2012 squad had just 27 sacks on the year and just 35 in 2013 on the way to 7-9 and 4-12 seasons, respectively. Schiano said that his teams in Miami in 1999 and 2000 had some great players on the line as well, but nothing on the level of what he is seeing now in Columbus.
Ohio State’s line includes some similarly top talent that has honed itself over the last season. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis opted to return to Columbus for his senior season, and is the anchor for a line that includes two former five-star recruits at defensive end in Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa. Both Lewis and Hubbard are expected to be first-round selections in the 2018 NFL Draft after this season, while Bosa may very well follow in his brother’s footsteps down the road. Jalyn Holmes, a four-star recruit in his own right, is entering his senior season and, though he has not started a game for the Buckeyes, was an honorable mention All-Big Ten defensive end last season.