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Bengals 2015 Exit Interview: Center Russell Bodine

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The Bengals have had issues at center ever since Rich Braham retired. Can Russell Bodine step up and fix that going forward?

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have had one of the NFL's best offensive lines on an annual basis for much of the past decade, but that doesn't mean it's not without weakness.

Center was once a position this franchise didn't have to worry about thanks to long tenures by Bruce Kozerski and Rich Braham, which helped the Bengals to need just two full-time centers from 1986-2006. That ended when Braham went down two weeks into the 2006 season with a knee injury, leading to his retirement.

Since then, Cincinnati has gone through Eric Ghiaciuc, Kyle Cook, Trevor Robinson and now Russell Bodine. The latter joined the Bengals in the 2014 NFL Draft as a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina to replace Cook, who had been cut that offseason.

Though he was essentially handed the starting job as a rookie, Bodine has done little to reward the Bengals for their patience with him in hopes he could become their franchise center. He's routinely been pushed around in the run game and was part of the reason why Cincinnati finished 2015 ranked 23rd in rushing yards per carry (3.9).

His pass-blocking has been serviceable, but mainly because the Bengals had utilized a quick passing game that makes it hard for defenses to get pressure up the middle.

Bodine finished his rookie season as one of the worst-rated centers and didn't improve much in Year 2. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked Bodine as their 30th-best center out of 39 eligible players. His 42.4 grade puts him in PFF's 'replaceable' tier of players, the worst of five tiers PFF has.

If you look at that list, most of the names down in Bodine's range are guys like Cody Wallace, Trevor Robinson, Joe Looney and Jamil Douglas, guys who were either backup centers or guards moved to center because of injuries.

That's not exactly good company for Bodine to be in, especially when you're talking about a Bengals team that's been painfully close to being a Super Bowl contender. It stings to think how good the Bengals' offensive line would have been this past season had they gotten just average play at center.

To be fair to Bodine and show not all hope is lost with him, offensive line coach Paul Alexander runs a complex blocking scheme that takes a few years for players to fully grasp. Just looking at the current Bengals lineman, Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler, Andre Smith and even Andrew Whitworth made dramatic jumps in their level of play in Year 3 and Year 4.

This is why we shouldn't expect the Bengals to make any changes at center this offseason as they give Bodine one more year to show what he's capable of. That doesn't mean, however, that the Bengals won't take a center in this year's draft if a guy they like falls to them in the latter rounds, and then let him compete with Bodine for the starting spot.

I don't think the Bengals will target a center in the draft or free agency, so expect Bodine to be the starter again in 2016.