Russell Bodine: Bengals’ Starting Center No More?
By Anish Kapil
The center position for the Cincinnati Bengals has been in a constant state of flux since the retirement of Richie Braham in 2006. The cast of characters has been long and unproductive: Eric Ghiaciuc, Kyle Cook, Johnathan Luigs, Trevor Robinson and currently, Russell Bodine. None of these names have been able to fit the mold of what the Bengals relied upon with Braham. The Bengals drafted Bodine in 2014 to help stop the trend of ineffective centers.
Bodine has been much ballyhooed by the Bengals staff for his acumen, physical abilities and mental capacities. The accolades were highlighted by the staff and even pointed out by many other reviewers. His strength, quickness, desire, speed and athleticism made him a perfect candidate for the team. Even his attitude has been hailed by the team as a positive development overall.
Despite all of these positive reviews of Bodine, his performance on the field was a bit uneven. His pass protection was suspect at best and he at times got overwhelmed during his rookie year. In the AFC North, Bodine has faced a gauntlet of great nose tackles: Haloti Ngata (now with the Lions), Phil Taylor, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams to name a few.
While I am all for giving rookies a learning curve and time to develop, some elements may push Bodine into the backup role. First, the drafting of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the 2015 Draft has indicated the Bengals are at least entertaining the thought of Andrew Whitworth not playing tackle next year. This makes for an interesting dilemma for the Bengals. Should they keep their captain, heart and soul or allow him to leave in free agency?
Then, there is the matter of Kevin Zeitler, whose contract is up after the 2015 season. The Bengals are very interested in bringing him back, which silences any question about one of the guard spots. The fun part of this equation is the re-signing of Clint Boling. For my money, I didn’t think the Bengals would re-sign Boling, thus moving Whitworth inside to Boling’s left guard spot. With Boling’s re-signing, my gut feeling is that Whitworth will be brought back on a three-year deal.
Here is the fun part of my crazy equation: Boling does have experience playing center in college. Andre Smith will not be re-signed by the team, due to his injury history and poor results. Can the Bengals go with this starting five on the offensive line in 2016: Ogbuehi at left tackle, Whitworth at left guard, Boling at center, Zeitler right guard, Fisher at right tackle?
Certainly, there are a great deal of disclaimers to be put into place. Can the Bengals afford to bring back both Whitworth and Zeitler? I think they can, but there will need to be a team-friendly deal regarding Whitworth. Finally, will the two rookies prove themselves to be anchors at the two tackles? My thought process leans yes, they will be anchors, but one really doesn’t know until rookies play in the NFL. Also, Obeughi needs to come back from his ACL injury as well.
Why would the Bengals usher Bodine out after two years? I can’t say I would have re-signed Boling, but since the Bengals have committed to him, Whitworth is a more important piece (if for motivational reasons only) than Bodine. Sorry Russell, the NFL isn’t fair sometimes. Through no fault of your own, barring a Pro Bowl season, you might be riding the pine in your third NFL season.