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Russell Bodine in walking boot; T.J. Johnson ready to step up

For the first time in more than two years, the Bengals may have a starting center not named Russell Bodine when the Browns come to town in Week 7.

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Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Russell Bodine has had his share of issues through his first three seasons with the Bengals, but durability hasn’t been among them.

Since being drafted out of North Carolina in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the former Tar Heels lineman has not missed an NFL game while playing almost every since snap since Week 1 of that season.

However, it looks like Bodine is set to miss his first NFL game thanks to an ankle injury suffered in Week 6. Bodine went down with the injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s game and was then carted off the field. Today, Marvin Lewis said Bodine has “a sore ankle”.

It initially didn’t look good for Bodine, but’s Geoff Hobson reports that there is no break in the ankle. Hobson added that Bodine has since been seen in a walking boot on that right foot, which doesn’t really say much about how bad the injury is.

We’ve seen NFL players don a walking boot after a minor injury following a game, then go on to play in a game the very next week. A boot can be more of a precaution than anything, but in the case of Bodine, it’s probably a little more serious.

If Bodine is to miss time for the first time in his career, backup T.J. Johnson will be the starting center. Johnson entered Sunday’s game to start the fourth quarter with the Bengals trailing 25-14.

“It’s just a role I assume every week, so I have got to be ready to go in whenever my number is called and that is what happened today,” Johnson said following Sunday’s loss.

Johnson was part of a drive that ended in a field goal (should have been a TD), but Cincinnati ultimately fell 35-17. Though it was a small sample size, Bengals guard Clint Boling was happy with what he saw from Johnson at center.

“He did a good job,” Boling said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He was fine. He’s a talented guy. He’s been here for a little while. He hasn’t been able to play a lot, but he definitely knows what’s going on. Hopefully when he steps in the game, he picks up where Russell left off and continues to play well.”

Johnson, who is classified as a third-year NFL player for 2016, joined the Bengals in 2013 after being drafted out of South Carolina with the 251st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

During his redshirt senior year in 2012, Johnson started in all 13 games at center and broke the school's record for starts over a career. He was named to the Coaches All-SEC second-team and finished his career having started every game between 2009-12.

After coming to the Queen City, Johnson spent his rookie season on the practice squad. In 2014, Johnson made the 53-man roster, played in four games (Games 3 and 12-14) and was inactive (coaches decision) for Games 1-2 and 16. He was active but did not play for Games 4-11 and 15.

In 2015, Johnson appeared in 12 games, including the Wild Card playoff game. He's played both backup guard and backup center during his career, which has helped him remain on the 53-man roster as he's continued to develop.

Johnson was actually slated to become an exclusive-rights free agent this past offseason, but was eventually re-signed to keep him under contract for one more season. He will become a restricted free agent in 2017 if the Bengals extend a qualifying offer to him.

If Johnson does end up starting, he won’t exactly need to light the world on fire to make up for the loss of Bodine. After Sunday, Bodine is Pro Football Focus’ 26th-ranked center out of 34 eligible players.

Bodine has annually been among PFF’s worst-ranked centers, and it’s been easy to see why if you’ve watched him at all on the field. To be fair, Bodine has made some improvements this season, but not enough to help the Bengals’ offensive line avoid their early-season struggles as a unit.

Also of note, Lewis said in his press conference today that Cedric Ogbuehi will resume the starting right tackle duties after he was benched in Week 6 against the Patriots.