If there has been one constant with the Cincinnati Bengals under Marvin Lewis, it has been solid play from the offensive line. Great tackles have been mainstays during his tenure, along with some big, nasty guards. If there is another constant in that same span, it's inconsistent play from the center position.
Since Rich Braham left the team after the 2006 season, names like Eric Ghiaciuc, Jeff Faine and Kyle Cook have started in the middle of the line. Last year, rookie strong man Russell Bodine started for the Bengals amongst mixed reviews. Because of his immense upper body strength, Bodine was, at times, able to anchor up against some mammoth defensive lineman--particularly at the end of the season when Jeremy Hill began to run all over the NFL. However, other times, Bodine would miss blocks, struggle to get to the second level and lose leverage because of poor lower body technique.
It wasn't a great season from the rookie, but it also couldn't be called a massive bust, either. After all, Bodine was in the middle of the Bengals line that was No.3 in least amount of sacks in the league and No.6 in rushing yards. Though he was the weakest player on a stout line, he may have just been an easy target because of the great play of those around him.
Why He Makes The List:
Experience: Bodine was the starter in all 17 games the Bengals played last season (including playoffs), and that bodes well for his sophomore campaign for a number of reasons. Nothing beats game experience for a young player and what better trial-by-fire is there than that of the beasts from the AFC North? Sometimes strength needs to be built for young players to be effective, but for Bodine it is increased film study and close coaching from Hue Jackson and Paul Alexander. If they both make him a pet project, Bodine could take major strides in 2015.
Continuity Along The Line: Sometimes the best thing for a team is simply having familiarity with each other and continuing to work with the same talented players. It's a mantra that has been preached by owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis, and though it has yet to pay off in the postseason, it has garnered the Bengals four straight playoff berths. With Bodine working with the same players, especially ones with the talent level of the starters, it will make the game slow down a bit for the second-year center.
Bodine is the first true starter on this list and some may agree or disagree with his positioning. Some of those surrounding the Cincy Jungle crew feel that Bodine's ceiling is that of a marginal starter at best, while others feel as if the criticism hammer has fallen a bit hard on a player that was, after all, a rookie.
Whichever camp one resides in, there are two certainties. First, there is room for improvement by Bodine, whether it's little steps or big leaps. Secondly, if Bodine does makes strides in his second year, both sides of the fence will be happy to see marked improvement.
In terms of the two major aforementioned categories (sacks allowed and rushing yards), there isn't much to improve on. However, improved consistency with Bodine will only make the Bengals offense more lethal and take pressure off of Andy Dalton.