Inside Pat Elflein's Transition From a First Team All-Big Ten Guard to Ohio State's Next Starting Center

By Eric Seger on February 29, 2016 at 8:35 am
Taking a longer look at Pat Elflein's move to center.

When Pat Elflein elected to become Ohio State's next starting center, he turned to an old friend for tips on how to perfect the nuances at the position in hopes of becoming a solid staple in front of quarterback J.T. Barrett.

"Corey Linsley is back, I’ve been working with him, he starts for the Packers at center," Elflein said Feb. 17. "Just working on drills."

Linsley is the first center Urban Meyer inherited at Ohio State, an eventual two-year starter who earned first team All-Big Ten honors his senior year in 2013. Green Bay selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and now he is a constant of the Packer offense. He snaps to two-time league MVP and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Linsley was the catalyst for a high-powered Ohio State rushing attack.

And, like Elflein, he moved from guard to center at Ohio State. Linsley made the switch from guard/tackle to center in spring 2012.

"I think from a physical standpoint, center is probably a little ... there's different techniques," Linsley told Eleven Warriors Friday. "But the physical aspect of guard is a little bit more difficult than center."

Guards are asked to pull and make blocks on the edge more often than centers at all levels of football, tasked with stepping in front of hard charging linebackers to clear space for a ballcarrier. Centers do that too, but priority No. 1 is always the snap of the ball.

Elflein was Ohio State's backup center the last two seasons in the instance starter Jacoby Boren couldn't go. He didn't get much game action, though, so he turned to Linsley to learn the best ways to prepare and ultimately make the transition.

"Just having the ball in your hand, the stance is a little different, but I feel like it’s going great," Elflein said.

Players can switch positions to satisfy a team need or because they see their future at a different spot. Linsley is listed on Green Bay's official website at 6-foot-3 and 301 pounds. Elflein is essentially the same on Ohio State's — 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.

So Elflein has the size, but nailing the technique to be the caliber of center Ohio State expects just takes time.

"I think it's just repetition. Going into practice with the mindset that you're going to get better today. Just perfecting your craft," Iowa center Austin Blythe said Wednesday at the NFL Combine. "That's what you gotta do, going from guard to center or playing offensive line and snapping the ball."

Blythe made the transition from guard to center in the spring of 2013 at the request of Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz. He blossomed into a pillar of Iowa's offense for three seasons, helping the Hawkeyes reach the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl.

The most lucrative center and guard deals in the NFL are nearly identical, at least in terms of salary. Miami's Mike Pouncey is set to make $8.9 million in 2016 at center, while Tampa Bay's Logan Mankins checked in with an $8.5 million salary at guard according to Spotrac.

So the difference in money at the two positions is negligible. That leaves team needs to drive the switch among players like Blythe and Elflein.

"I think I'm a huge team guy, but that's what Coach Ferentz wanted me to do and I happily obliged," Blythe said. "I think it's worked out a little bit."

“It's just a matter of Pat knowing the offense, which he does, and kind of commanding everything and making sure people know where the ID is, know where they're all going. Pat has the skills, the intangibles if you will, to do that. He's got everything that you're looking for in a center.”– Corey Linsley

Elflein is of a similar mold, which is why he turned to his good friend and the man Urban Meyer dubbed as "The Apex" after his first two seasons as Ohio State's head coach.

"It's just a matter of Pat knowing the offense, which he does, and kind of commanding everything and making sure people know where the ID is, know where they're all going," Linsley said. "Pat has the skills, the intangibles if you will, to do that. He's got everything that you're looking for in a center."

Linsley said he's been showing Elflein various stretching techniques and drills he uses as a center in Green Bay, as well as working at the latter's explosion and hand placement after the snap of the ball.

"You're at a disadvantage with your snap hand," Linsley said. "You're snapping the ball, obviously, so you're going to be a second late. So using your off hand is pretty important. We've been working on that a little bit."

Elflein is an excellent guard — there's a reason he was a two-time All-Big Ten player at the position. He could have entered the NFL Draft, but chose to return and be a team captain and leader for Ohio State in 2016. Now, he's taking the necessary steps to put in a similar type of performance at center.

"I’ve lost a little bit of weight, I’m quicker, stronger so I feel like it’s going to be a great transition and I’m excited about it," Elflein said.

"He's a helluva guard, had the opportunity to leave but chose not to," Linsley added. "I think the most important reason he's moving to center is being the oldest guy and being the smartest guy now, most experienced on that line, he's in a position to kind of direct it."

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