Seeing Michael Jordan at center at Ohio State's football practice Tuesday was more affirmation than revelation.
Word had been circulating for months that Jordan, a first team all-Big Ten left guard in 2017, would get a look at center during preseason camp. Jordan had been snapping throughout the offseason, insiders said.
Then during the brief period the media was allowed to watch practice on Tuesday, Jordan was seen doing some snapping along with presumed starter Brady Taylor and Josh Myers. Once most of the media was shooed out, cameras from the Big Ten Network caught Jordan snapping a few times with what appeared to be the working first-team line.
All of which confirmed the notion that the coaches want to field their best five linemen, even it means switching positions.
And why not, considering that Pat Elflein switched from guard to center in 2016 and won the Rimington Award, and Billy Price made the same move last season and also won the Rimington.
“If the coaches put Mike in that position, I think he’s capable of doing that,” right tackle Isaiah Prince said. “The coaches are not going to put somebody in a position they cannot do.”
Prince spoke before preseason camp. The players and coaches have not been available to the media in the past week after coach Urban Meyer was put on paid administrative leave. The university is investigating what Meyer knew of domestic-abuse allegations by Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of former assistant coach Zach Smith, who was fired July 23.
So the audition by Jordan for center wasn’t something acting head coach Ryan Day came up with on a whim when camp opened last week. Line coach Greg Studrawa often has said he wants the best five to be the starting five, something Meyer reiterated during Big Ten media days in Chicago.
Meyer spoke of the strong lineage at center that started his first couple of years at OSU with Corey Linsley, followed by Jacoby Boren in 2014 and ’15, Elflein and Price.
“Everybody talks about the loss of J.T.” Barrett, the starting quarterback the past four years, but replacing a stellar center is key, too, Meyer said. “We’ve had very good centers.”
Depth gives the coaches the flexibility to try the switch with Jordan. Branden Bowen started at right guard last season before suffering a broken leg at midseason, and Demetrious Knox played well in his place. That means even though Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones were drafted, the Buckeyes in essence have four starters back, three of them guards plus right tackle Isaiah Prince.
Thayer Munford was No. 1 at left tackle when camp started, and the coaches liked the progression during the offseason of Josh Alabi (tackle) and Wyatt Davis (guard), plus Taylor and Myers.
“It’s the most quality depth we’ve had” on the line, Meyer said.
Which means coaches can experiment through the first few weeks of camp. For the Sept. 1 season opener against Oregon State, it would not be a surprise to see a starting line of Munford (left tackle), Bowen (left guard), Jordan (center), Knox (right guard) and Prince (right tackle).
“I trust the coaches are going to make the right decisions on what’s going on,” Prince said.