The Bengals have had a loaded roster for years now but one of the few positions where media and fans agree they're weak is center. Russell Bodine, entering his third year in the NFL, has been a below average starter at best for Cincinnati since he was handed the job by default after the team traded up in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft to select him. As he is slated again to play every snap at center in his third season, we consider if there are reasons to be optimistic about him going forward.
Cincinnati offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, runs a complex blocking scheme that takes some time for his players to fully grasp, and the North Carolina product shouldn't be different. And while he might get better in 2016, what we saw last season was confirmation of his pre-draft scouting weaknesses. Bodine hasn't helped the Bengals running game as they were hoping he would when parting ways with Kyle Cook and his pass protection has been hidden by one of the quickest release systems in all of football.
Pro Football Focus ranked him 30th out of 39 eligible centers in the NFL in 2015, and Bleacher Report, in its Top 1000 had him as the 31st best center. With no upgrade coming via the draft or free agency, and Alexander supporting Bodine until the end, the Bengals have to hope he can overcome some of the natural deficits that make him a poor starter.
He produced the slowest 3-cone time of his class at the 2014 combine (8.29 seconds) and that shows often in tape. Bodine isn't quick and although he wasn't beaten by three-man pass rushes as easily as he was as a rookie, it was still hard to watch.
Bodine has outstanding weight-room strength, something that the Bengals' coaching staff covets highly, but as he relies only in his upper-body strength, he can get overpowered plenty and often, forcing the pocket to collapse. And his stone feet don't help that.
This also impacts his lateral movement, thus damaging the Bengals' power running game that was so ineffective last season. That wasn't exactly Bodine's fault, though.
When Bodine plays with his feet set and takes advantage of the opponent's move to take him the other way, he can and will win the fight, don't get me wrong.
The coaches seem to have increased trust in Bodine as he was given less help by the guards as the 2015 season wore on, something that was making both Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler look worse two seasons ago. This is where Bodine can improve with a better grasp of Alexander's scheme because of his awareness when other teams ran a stunt or zone blitz up the middle. His ability to do that over the past two seasons was poor and he was really late to switch plenty of times, but you can also argue that right tackle Andre Smith was usually worse.
Another area in which Bodine can improve is his tendency of playing short-armed that allows defenders to disengage quickly and stop the Bengals' running game. I know his arms won't grow longer, but his mechanics can get better. If they don't, he won't be more than a short-area blocker for a Bengals team that was expecting a more athletic player.
Make no mistake, Bodine can get to the second level, but once there, he's ineffective because of his lack of quickness and poor awareness.
The Bengals will have to live again with Bodine's flaws in 2016, but maybe another year working with the coaching staff and more experience will help him to become at least an average starter in the NFL for a team that consistently contends and needs every single player to be at their best.