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From Russell Bodine Skeptic to Believer

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Yours truly, now believes in Russell Bodine. Here's my comprehensive view of his progression from draft day up to now.

Andy Lyons

In Sunday's disastrous loss to the Colts, starting C Russell Bodine was a mild bright spot. True, the O-line surrendered four sacks, but none of them were given up by Bodine individually. True, he had one snap nearly go awry, but that was simply a fluke miscommunication with Dalton, not the snap itself that was off-target. It probably won't happen again. Bodine was not perfect and didn't do particularly well in run-blocking against the Colts front, particularly NT Josh Chapman, but it was just that kind of day for the O-line in general and for the team. This is the third time in four games that Bodine has registered an overall positive Pro Football Focus score.

In my Week 5 Rookie Stock Report, one faithful reader, trolls, commented that starting C Russell Bodine's major struggles in training camp and preseason should not be brought up anymore. I agree with trolls for the most part, except for one instance: it can be used in-passing to compliment Bodine, on the fact that it's impressive how far he's come. Not a backhanded compliment, but a praiseworthy one. That's precisely the one thing I meant to convey in the Week 5 Rookie Stock Report and in this article.

Trolls also mentioned this:

If you are being honest with yourself, you'd realize that the continued mentions of Bodine's preseason are nothing but a face-saving measure for those who totally whiffed on their evaluations of him.

Well, let's start out being honest with myself. I wrote that as nothing but sincere praise of Bodine to show his progression, and it didn't occur to me that I supposedly needed to save face for anything. I was making the point "wow, the way he's playing now is a far cry from then, and that's great!" That's it. If one believes he actually wasn't doing poorly at the time, then I can see how even this particular comment of mine is not acceptable. Anyway, I'm generally cautious, so I didn't bring up this comment any earlier until he had put together at least two good games in a row.

Now that that's been established, I want to address the point that trolls - with good intentions, I'm sure - makes, that I supposedly "totally whiffed" on my evaluation of Bodine.

When the Bengals traded up to draft Bodine in the fourth round, I gave Bodine a relatively high immediate grade, tied for the third-highest of nine grades (I also predicted that Ryan Hewitt would make the 53-man roster...and called James Wright a bad pick), a solid "B." The only players I rewarded higher grades to were Darqueze Dennard and A.J. McCarron, both unexpected steals at their respective draft slots. A handful of people gave Bodine an "F," but I was nearly on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Bodine's UNC tape had some mistakes (though what I saw was not comprehensive) and I also questioned the decision to immediately tab him the starter. But by that time, Kyle Cook had been released and Clint Boling seemed likely to go on PUP at the time (and obviously Kevin Zeitler became injured for a while, so it ended up being essentially the same situation either way), thus forcing Mike Pollak to start at G and not C. Plus, T.J. Johnson was moved to G, and Trevor Robinson had a very poor 2013 - even worse than Cook's, according to Pro Football Focus.

I liked Bodine's physical talent - he led the NFL Combine in bench press reps. And the Bengals certainly needed to draft an interior O-lineman, whether G or C. Assuming BJGE and Michael Johnson would soon no longer be on the team, thus making the previous two picks of Jeremy Hill and Will Clarke apparently worth it from a need standpoint, then I was fine with Bodine in the fourth and not taking an interior lineman earlier. I was naturally tentative about Bodine as with any new draftee, but overall I was cool with the pick.

Throughout training camp and preseason, I was still fine with the pick itself because of his upside. However, I was disappointed by his poor play, namely high snaps (one every couple days or so of camp), missed blocking assignments and getting flattened mainly in the run game (about half a dozen times per game). Observing the preseason tape (and in-person), he was frankly awful at times, on par or worse than Eric Ghiaciuc or Jonathan Luigs. It wasn't a pretty sight to observe.

I didn't totally write Bodine off nor call him a bust considering he's a rookie with upside, but I wanted Pollak to be the starting C when Boling got healthy. Pollak did very well in his preseason snaps at C, and has continued this high level of play into the regular season, even being named Football Outsiders' Offensive Lineman of the Week for Week 3, a league-wide recognition. He was, and still is, a fine choice at C if needed. I was skeptical and tentative about Bodine after his camp and preseason. Still, I specifically remember that I thought he could start at C by the middle of the season (eight games in, I arbitrarily said) if he really worked to improve his game. To a degree, I continued to maintain my draft-day optimism.

In Weeks 1 and 2 at C, Bodine wasn't that great and was still well below-average relative to the league starters. However, it was clearly an improvement from before; he "held up" and was "good enough." After Week 1, I was still being conservative but already had a raised opinion of him after observing his superb block during Dalton's go-ahead TD bomb. There were a handful of question-marks in snapping and run-blocking in those two games, but these were mostly nitpicking. After observing his performance against the Titans in Week 3, my opinion of him went way up, and it has gone up even further after observing him during each of the three games before last Sunday's game. I'm not at all saying he was perfect in those three games, but he was very good. He wasn't at this level for the Colts game, but was still much better than the likes of Andre Smith and Clint Boling.

I don't hate Bodine at all, never have - my evaluation of him since he was drafted has been primarily based on his tape, and seeing him in-person too. That goes for any Bengal. Secondary factors would be numerical production (except for O-linemen, who don't have that) and measurables. It's not a perfect methodology, and mistakes can be made during the process itself, but for me it is the most rational way to evaluate an individual player without inserting my natural pro-Bengals bias/hope. Just as equally as the tape was Bodine's source of criticism in preseason, it has been his source of praise in the regular season.

To me, Bodine was poor in preseason - from my observations, there's no doubt about that. To me, Bodine has been good in the regular season, particularly the last three weeks before last Sunday - from my observations, there's no doubt about that. Plus, to me, this is a great way to evaluate the individual player. During Weeks 1 and 2, some people said Bodine was excellent, because the O-line gave up no sacks and the offense did well. But the tape on Bodine, individually, clearly shows otherwise (again, though, at least he subparly "held up" in those two games). By that same logic, the tape shows that Bodine was not really a negative against the Colts (though certainly not perfect either), and it would be imprudent to say that he was awful just because the O-line and offense as a whole was awful.

Trolls, I'm speculating you think that Bodine has been essentially a good player ever since being drafted, "the preseason doesn't mean squat," and I shouldn't have worried about anything - after all, Marvin Lewis and Paul Alexander have apparently had total faith in him since draft day. You might be right, and you're not alone - a contingent of Cincy Junglers has maintained this view since the day he was drafted.

Personally, I think that Bodine had physical traits but was raw/unpolished both cerebrally and in technique, and thus not good to start out. That doesn't at all mean he would stay raw, but he was for the moment. Ever since he was drafted, I have maintained my view that he was a project with physical upside, and again, even when he really struggled I believed he could still start at C sometime during the season.

I think he used the results of preseason meaningfully to the point that he was "good enough" in Weeks 1 and 2, and then began to play "well" from Week 3 and on. I don't believe my preseason evaluations were wrong, and I'm hardly alone on that among Cincy Jungle - Brennen Warner, Mismanagement, dqniel, BengalsFanNYC, etc. Bodine truly did stink badly all-around in preseason, and he used that to improve himself fairly quickly to where he is now, which makes him impressive to me - not that he has been essentially this solid since he was drafted and that preseason was simply a meaningless aberration. I think he garnered accurate, justified, reasonable preseason evaluations from both himself and the coaches based on his play, and similar to what I had, and used them to to greatly better himself.

I do recognize, however, that I "whiffed" in terms of my low initial expectations for him. I believe my preseason evaluations of Bodine were accurate, but I did miss on how soon would he rebound from them; he did a better job in learning from them than many other so-called projects would. At one point, I even placed him in a similar category as Will Clarke, but obviously, only one of these projects has shown improvement. I didn't realize how resilient Bodine would be (again, I believed he would improve, but only sometime well into the season), so I have to apologize for that.

I don't want to defend that, but I don't want to apologize for the principle itself, either. Admittedly, I did not believe that immediately starting Bodine, and more significantly benching Pollak for him, would be the best option. Based on the evidence at the time, I thought it was riskier to start Bodine and safer to start Pollak; Bodine's stock was unstable then (now, it has reached a high level) while Pollak's has already been at a high level for a long while. I'd have been much more receptive to instantly starting Bodine if Pollak never existed, and thus essentially be forced to take the chance whether Bodine would or would not demonstrate improvement so soon.

Bodine was a high-risk, high-reward riverboat gamble that the Bengals went all-in on, and that I wanted to avoid for the moment while making the low-risk, somewhat-high-reward bet in Pollak. I held this position because of what I observed from Pollak vs. what I observed from Bodine. I don't believe Pollak is a lesser C than Bodine, but an effective Pollak at C isn't quite as high of a reward as an effective Bodine at C, because then Pollak isn't available to swing over to G. Still, at the time, I wanted to go with what honestly seemed as the safer route.

Though my bet was not a losing one, the Bengals won the gamble. I had an easy full house well in hand, and the Bengals came up with a royal flush on the river card. It was for the best that Bodine started after all, not only because of his current level of play but also because of Zeitler's unfortunate injury, pressing Pollak into service at G. The Bodine-Pollak C debate quickly became moot, and Bodine should not be removed from C, for the sake of continuity. Still, that Bodine has clearly exceeded my then-expectations, which I am very glad he did, doesn't mean my general principle itself is bad. Again, on Cincy Jungle, I'm hardly alone on that.

I'm pleased I was wrong about my expectations for Bodine, but for most anything, especially with my personal finances, I will go with the safe, reliable, already successful option(s) 10 times out of 10 assuming that choice is available, until I observe the same kind of success from the other option(s). Once I actually observed it for Bodine, my opinion of him immediately became much higher, and I joined the ranks of those who already believed in him. We're fortunate to have both Bodine and Pollak.

Bodine still needs to continue getting better, as with any young player. Oftentimes this year, the Bengals have done this:

Noticed this. RT "@RoyleRedlegs: Bengals adjusting their blocks to accommodate the rookie center. It's starting to hurt Boling IMO."

- JGoods (@JoeGoodberry) October 15, 2014

Bodine would usually team up with either Boling or Pollak/Zeitler, assisting them against a D-lineman. Again, though, Bodine is a rookie. Eventually, he should be able to match up one-on-one with nose tackles, as he has shown in flashes this year.

Trolls, you and I agree about Bodine now; I just want to show you my overall thought process and reasoning. Hopefully this can put to rest the disconnect between you, the "long-time Bodine believer" and me, the "new Bodine believer, former skeptic." Even if we still might disagree on something, hopefully this shows where I am coming from!

Now, Bodine also has this to chat about in the locker room:

That awkward moment where Gio Bernard & Russell Bodine bring up the 2012 bowl ban that kept them out of the ACC title game to Greg Little.

- Brian Barbour (@tarheelblog) October 14, 2014