Thrust into the starting lineup for a playoff contender during his rookie year, Russell Bodine held up, and helped the Bengals finish sixth in rushing and win 10 games in 2014. But last year, he failed to show progress, and fans are concerned his shortcomings are beginning to hold the offense back.
While offensive line coach Paul Alexander has defended his center and chastised fans and the media for perpetuating a Bodine "witch hunt," the team has stocked up on offensive linemen during the past two drafts. We can expect to see tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher get a big bump in playing time in their second years. And guard Christian Westerman was perhaps the Bengals' biggest steal of this year's draft. He's a quick-footed guard who excels on the move and is versatile enough to play all three interior positions. Fisher is a potential option at center as well as he'll likely be the No. 1 backup along the offensive line this year. In other words, younger, more agile players are coming for Bodine's job, so he's down to his last chance as a starter.
In the following video, we provide a brief video analysis of Bodine's strengths and weaknesses:
Experience: Year 3
College: North Carolina
Why he might improve in 2016
The great part of drafting young players who leave college early (like Bodine) is that, in theory, the player's ceiling won't be reached until he is well into his career under the supervision of NFL coaches and with the help of weight training. For this reason it is quite possible Bodine is still developing and has yet to reach his potential. Yes, once you've been anointed as a starter in the NFL, the excuses pretty much need to be thrown out of the window. But not all cases are the same. And Bodine has undeniably had some quality snaps in his first and second years in the league. Take, for example, the following play from Week 2 against the San Diego Chargers in 2015.
This play is a good example of how a center should work in the second level of blocking, as Bodine utilizes his quickness and acts decisively. It's a hit-and-go, in keeping with the philosophy of the traditional zone blocking system that offensive line coach Paul Alexander employs so successfully. Bodine does a good job on what looks like a relatively simple play call, and it leads to a nine yard gain by running back Jeremy Hill.
Why he might regress in 2016
While young offensive linemen like Bodine often haven't reached their ceiling, to do so it is necessary that they fill out their frames with muscle. Unfortunately, that may not be possible for Bodine; his wingspan (32 1/2") is one of the shortest among starting interior offensive lineman, his upper body is as pretty much as strong as it's going to get, and his arms aren't going to get any longer. Many will point to his impressive performance on the bench press back at the 2014 combine, and take it as a sign of his football strength. But those short arms aided him in that session more than most realize. And weight room strength is not a quality metric for predicting the success of an offensive lineman. His arm length is a notable issue because offensive lineman with short arms have to work extra hard on their punching and sustaining blocks, two things that so far Bodine has not proven he can do on a consistent basis. When combined with his lack of lower body explosion to produce leverage in his base, it becomes clear that Bodine doesn't have a favorable combination for his development. He has obviously been endowed with naturally given strength in some areas, but not all of them translate to being a top tier offensive lineman.
Odds of making the roster
Bodine is not only a lock for the roster, but a near lock for the starting position. But, despite Alexander's reassurances, he won't be holding onto that privilege for very long if he continues to make critical errors and get overpowered at the line of scrimmage.