Sep 14, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals center Russell Bodin (61) before the snap in the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Atlanta 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to 2014, the Cincinnati Bengals watched the effectiveness of the center position decline. When the 2014 draft rolled around, the team made a rare draft day trade and moved up to select center Russell Bodine in the fourth round. Reflecting on his rookie season, Bodine offers promise, but leaves much to be desired at this point. With another offseason and a year of NFL experience under his belt, it’s reasonable to believe that Bodine will improve again in 2015 and could very well form into the team’s ideal center of the future.
But nothing is a sure thing in the NFL, even with a great mentor like Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander on your side. Russell Bodine’s future as a successful starting center cannot be assured at this point in time meaning the team must be prepared if things don’t work out with Bodine.
Regardless of what happens with Bodine, the Bengals still are in need of help at the position. Earlier this offseason, Cincinnati chose to move on from veteran interior lineman Mike Pollak. Pollak’s value to the Bengals was his ability to play all three spots along the line’s interior. The Bengals may have a replacement with the ability to act as the team’s reserve at the guard spots. Andrew Whitworth could kick inside again if injury struck the line, but this would only be possible if the Bengals find a tackle in the draft. Beyond this roundabout option, there’s Trey Hopkins, but even he comes with concerns.
After a strong showing in last year’s preseason, Hopkins unfortunately suffered a “fibula injury,” which ended his rookie season before it even got under way. He was impressive enough though to warrant expectations that he very well could act as the Bengals’ reserve guard in 2015 considering how well he did with the first team and during the preseason last year. But Hopkins isn’t a center and likely won’t be turning into one in the near future.
So what do the Bengals do to ameliorate this issue? With nine selections in this year’s draft, the team must find another center who can step in if necessary. Bodine came to the Bengals advertised as a player who could play either center or guard, so selecting a new center who can also function as a guard isn’t necessary, but ideal. It would insure against injury and underperformance from Bodine.
Earlier this offseason, I made a case for Cincinnati selecting Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving, but unless the Bengals are convinced he can play tackle in the NFL, his acquisition isn’t likely, especially if the team wants a tackle of the future in the first round.
Beyond Erving, and later in the draft, there’s Boston College center Andy Gallik. His draft profile notes that he is a powerful center who is capable of handling 3-4 nose tackles. This is a trait that the Bengals about Bodine, as they employ a power running game, which asks centers to handle tackles while the guards must be a bit more mobile. More than this, each of Cincinnati’s AFC North opponents employs a 3-4 defense, which features a powerful nose tackle. Gallik could fit the Bengals’ need in the middle of the line well.
When the draft rolls around, the Bengals would do well to also give prospects like Max Garcia and Shaq Mason, if they believe he can be as effective at center as he is at guard, a look. Each is a versatile interior lineman who played well against NFL caliber competition. But regardless of whom they choose to invest in, the Bengals must find some insurance for the offensive line’s most interior spot.