Bengals starting center Russell Bodine has had some notable struggles since the Bengals traded up to get him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s often displayed problems with snapping the ball, getting beaten by agile defensive tackles, and generally looking lost during the game. The issues have caused many Bengals fans (myself included) to lament his selection in the draft and call for a change at the position.
But, you have to admit, he has played well in 2016. Despite his struggles throughout the first couple of years of his career, his growth doesen’t surprise his offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, one bit.
“I think he just had to kind of get his feet wet,” Alexander told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “He had to go through it a little bit. It's a completely different style of football than he's used to from college. We've talked about that ad nauseam. He's a big, tough, strong guy. He isn't afraid of those big guys.”
This confidence comes despite the fact that Bodine was benched against the Ravens in Week 12. Alexander was seemingly teaching him a lesson.
“Russell pissed me off on a couple plays in the Baltimore game so I said the hell with you and put T.J. (Johnson) in. That's coaching, right?” Alexander said. “He's good. Russell's doing a great job. He really is. Those big nose guards and all that stuff. He's doing good. You look at where his craft is going, and he keeps getting better and better.”
That said, Bodine was actually playing well in the game against the Ravens, minus a costly bad snap. Pro Football Focus thought he was protecting Dalton well In that matchup.
The errant snap certainly didn’t help, but that was one play of 60 that he played. He didn't allow a single pressure of any kind in pass protection and was mediocre as a run blocker (81 pass protection grade, 54 run blocking grade, per PFF metrics). He was the second highest graded Bengals’ lineman for that game and the 11th ranked center for that week.
Those grades aren’t super high, but they are respectable for a center who is used to being average at best. It is also particularly interesting that he was so good as a pass blocker because he has traditionally been much better as a run/screen blocker (76.7 overall grade, the 8th best center in the league), than he is in pass protection (58.1 overall grade, 34th best center). His run blocking has also noticeably improved since about Week 7 of this year. Many fans are more likely to focus on his pass protection stats (sacks, hits, hurries allowed) and not necessarily see the good work he is capable of doing in the run game.
He took a bit of a step back last week against the Eagles, but only a small one as he graded at 74.1, making him their 20th ranked center this week. Overall for the year, he's still ranked 22nd. He did allow one QB hurry (on a bullrush from Fletcher Cox in the third quarter) and got beat by Vinny Curry once on his 31 pass blocking snaps. In the run game, he graded about average, getting beat a couple times, but also winning some battles, even when pulling. Overall, he graded better as a run blocker than a pass blocker this game, but he wasn't great at either. Still, it’s an improvement over the way he used to perform.
“The whole thing for me is taking it week by week,” Bodine said. “No matter who you’re playing against, you just have to focus on that game. I think I’ve played pretty well the last couple of weeks, but it doesn’t matter. You just have to go do it.”