Ever since the early portion of the 2006 season, the Cincinnati Bengals have been looking for a long-term center. Rich Braham played 12 seasons with the team and started 142 of 146 games he suited up for, but a neck injury sustained in Week 2 a dozen years ago caused him to retire.
After experiencing such a sense of continuity during Braham’s reign, the Bengals experimented with the likes of Eric Ghiaciuc, Kyle Cook, Jeff Faine and Russell Bodine over the following 11 years. This offseason, they finally decided that a major change was in order.
For just the third time in their existence and the first since 1983, the team used a first round pick on a center. It happened to be used on local product, Billy Price, as the team essentially used two first-round picks (one they traded to the Bills in a trade for Cordy Glenn) on offensive linemen.
Comings and goings:
Departures: Russell Bodine (free agency)
Arrivals: Billy Price (round 1), Brad Lundblade (UDFA)
After placing some major hopes in the Bodine basket back in 2014, the team moved on from the four-year starter. Yes, he was durable and strong, but he seemingly lacked proper technique and was a liability up front.
Starter: Billy Price
Backup: T.J. Johnson
Wild card: Trey Hopkins
Price has seemingly rebounded from a pectoral injury he suffered during the bench press at the NFL Combine and should be the day one starter. Opinions are mixed on if he was the best center in this year’s class, but the team appears to have gotten the guy they wanted.
The first-round pick had some early training camp issues with snaps. But, it seems to have been remedied and he had a nice showing in his first two preseason games.
Johnson has been a valuable backup for a number of years and has flexibility to play guard. However, his spot is in serious jeopardy thanks to the emergence of Hopkins at center. Hopkins was the second-team center in the last preseason game, while Johnson was relegated to the third team and got injured. He appears likely to be let go during final cuts.
Depending on who you ask, Price was either the best center of “The Big Three” (Price, Frank Ragnow and James Daniels) in this year’s draft, or the worst. Regardless, the consensus opinion on Price is that he’ll at least have a solid, if not star-studded NFL career.
In a year rightfully-described as one full of competition for the Bengals, it appears as if the center position is one of few spots that is already designated to someone. And, oddly enough, if you’ve followed the Marvin Lewis era, it’s one who is seemingly given to a day one rookie.
Hopkins now has the inside track as the backup—especially given his flexibility to play guard as well. Lundblade has some nice upside, but he’s likely looking at the practice squad for 2018.