Cincinnati Bengals have high expectations for rookie Billy Price

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have shown a lot of patience with their first-round draft picks in recent years.

That won't be the case for Billy Price.

The Bengals had a clear need at center when they selected Price with the 21st overall pick back in April, and head coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged the expectations they have for Price in his rookie season are different from past first-rounders coming into the league.

"There is no question our expectations for Billy come in a different fashion," Lewis said during his first press conference of training camp Wednesday. "There is no doubt about that. I don't remember the last person we had basically created a space for, like in this case, but I do think the guys that are competing around Billy and with Billy at the center position, whether it be T.J. (Johnson) or Trey Hopkins, etc., the opportunity is still going to be there.

"Billy has to earn the job and earn the right. We're giving him first crack at it."

Tight end Tyler Eifert, drafted in 2013, was the Bengals' last first-round pick who saw a lot of playing time as a rookie.

The next year, cornerback Darqueze Dennard played just 62 defensive snaps as a rookie with Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick playing ahead of him. The team's 2015 first-round pick, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was limited his first year while coming back from an ACL tear suffered at Texas A&M, and he's still trying to find his way.

Defensive back William Jackson III missed his entire rookie season because of injury, and wide receiver John Ross came on for just 17 offensive snaps last year while battling knee and shoulder problems.

Price is aware of the team's history with first-round picks, but that doesn't change his expectations.

"I want to set the league on fire on Day 1," Price said. "For me, it's that expectation to go and earn a starting job, to compete from Day 1. It's a great opportunity. There's a lot of pride coming along with me, and I have high expectations for myself."

That's what makes a rough start in training camp so hard to swallow.

On his first day, Price fumbled three snaps, and the exchange between him and quarterback Andy Dalton remains far from smooth.

However, no one seems worried yet. Price is still working back into football after a pectoral muscle tear at the NFL Combine caused him to be limited during offseason workouts in Cincinnati. He practiced this spring but never went against a defender pushing on him until the start of camp.

"The adjustment he's making having not had 1,000 or so snaps in spring already that we had in May and June," Lewis said. "He hasn't had the opportunity to do that. He missed probably half of those not being able to participate against the defense. And, I think some of it is not Billy."

The adjustment from college to the NFL is both physical and mental, and Price said both are equally difficult. He was well-prepared at Ohio State, but there's no comparison to the pros.

Pro-Bowler Geno Atkins gave Price his first introduction to blocking an NFL defensive lineman.

"There is a massive playbook," Price said. "There is a ton of things to remember and understand, but the easy thing is if you understand defensive personnel, it makes the offensive transition much easier. Physically, as well. We're one day in and you start to feel the bumps and bruises and soreness.

"Guys are just a lot faster. Linebackers attack faster; defensive linemen, even though they might be 340-350 pounds, they can still move laterally pretty quick. That's something to get used to, and we're just taking it one day at a time."

Price also has to learn a different way of snapping. Ohio State always used its quarterbacks out of the shot gun during his four-year career there, and Price only snapped a handful of times to a quarterback under center -- three against USC and in victory formation, he recalled.

It's a small adjustment to make, according to Price, and Dalton doesn't think it will take long for the two of them to get in sync.

"Obviously you never want to put the ball on the ground, but it's the first time in a while he had a guy in front of him while taking a snap under center," Dalton said. "I think for him he just has to get used to the cadence and used to how we're doing things and just making sure he's getting the ball in the right spot. … He's got a lot of stuff he's thinking about right now. Getting the snap is the easiest thing, so you don't want to over coach that because he knows what he's doing."

As a first-round draft pick, Price is subject to constantly being under a microscope. He signed a four-year, $11,712,492 contract with the Bengals in May, including a $6,598,176 signing bonus and an average annual salary of $2,928,123.

Dalton isn't concerned about the pressure of high expectations getting to Price, who was a two-time captain for the Buckeyes.

"He has worked really hard," Dalton said. "For him to get back from his injury as quick as he did shows the type of work he put in. I think for him, he expects to play well, and regardless of some of the expectations outside of here he expects to play well."

Price just has to stay healthy -- something none of the last five first-round draft picks have been able to do, going back to Eifert and his constant struggles to stay on the field.

The Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's top college center last year, Price underwent elective surgery on his torn pectoral muscle after the Combine and was cleared for full activities in late June. While at Ohio State, he made a program-record 55 consecutive starts, and he replaces a durable Russell Bodine, who started every game in his four years with Cincinnati since the Bengals took him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

"The pressure on myself is huge just because you're representing a standard of excellence that comes with being a first-rounder," Price said. "Given the history of the Bengals with their first-round picks, obviously I'm going to go against that, and I've got to continue to stay healthy. I've got to go out and compete and perform at a high level."

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