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Bengals 2016 Roster Reset: State of the centers

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The Bengals will once again look to Russell Bodine to be their starting center this coming season.

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have had one of the NFL's best offensive lines for much of the past decade, though center hasn't exactly been a strength during that span.

That wasn't always the case though as 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.

But that string of long-term success ended when Braham went down two weeks into the 2006 season with a knee injury, leading to his retirement once the season concluded. Since then, Cincinnati has gone through Eric GhiaciucKyle Cook, Jeff Faine and Trevor Robinson.

Now, the Bengals are putting all their chips in on Russell Bodine, who joined the team during the 2014 NFL Draft as a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina. Not only did the Bengals target Bodine in the draft, but even moved up in Round 4 to secure his services as they viewed him as the answer to the team's center woes.

But while 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 RobinsonJoe Looney and Jamil Douglas, guys who were either backup centers or guards moved to center because of injuries.

To be fair to Bodine and show not all hope is lost, 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 BolingKevin ZeitlerAndre Smith and even Andrew Whitworth made dramatic jumps in their level of play in Year 3 and Year 4.

This is why the Bengals opted not to make any changes at center this offseason as they give Bodine one more year to show what he's capable of. Expect him to be the full-time starter again in 2016.

Backing him up will be T.J. Johnson, who is classified as a third-year NFL player for 2016. He joined the Bengals after being drafted out of South Carolina with the 251st overall pick in the 2013 Draft.  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 over his career, which has helped him remain on the 53-man roster as he's continued to develop. The Bengals felt good enough about Johnson's progress that they've re-signed him and will give him another shot to make the final roster in 2016.

While the Bengals didn't draft a center this year, they did sign Houston lineman Alex Cooper, UCLA lineman Alex Redmond and Florida lineman Trip Thurman as undrafted free agents. All three guys played multiple spots during their college careers, and for now, are listed as guards/centers.

It's also worth noting that backup tackle Jake Fisher has gotten reps at center this offseason, but his long-term outlook is at tackle, so don't expect him to get first-team reps this offseason.

Offensive guard Christian Westerman, who was taken in Round 5 of this year's draft, is someone who may be able to play center in the NFL, but for now, he'll be playing guard.

Starter: Russell Bodine

Backup: T.J. Johnson

Practice Squad Candidates: Alex Cooper, Alex Redmond, Trip Thurman

Wildcards: Will Jake Fisher and/or Westerman play center this summer in training camp? If so, that probably makes having a backup behind Bodine less necessary, not to mention, it could help keep more talented players on the roster.