When the Cincinnati Bengals traded up 12 spots to pick Russell Bodine in the fourth round of last month’s draft, offensive line coach Paul Alexander said he thought the center from North Carolina had the ability to start as a rookie.
So far this spring the team appears intent on giving Bodine every shot to win the job by running him out there with the first team in OTA and minicamp practices.
While the sample size is admittedly small, Alexander has been impressed with the early returns.
“So far he’s measured up well,” Alexander said. “He hasn’t done anything yet that’s disappointed me. Everything has been positive.”
Bodine’s strength is what the Bengals liked most about the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder, and it’s a big reason why they made the draft-day trade to move up to get him, something the franchise had only done twice before in the previous 45 years.
But brawn is only half the battle when it comes to playing center in Hue Jackson’s offense.
“The center is the brains of the operation,” Alexander said. “And he can do that. He’s had a good spring. He’s really mature for a young guy. Smart. He knows football. He’s really been very impressive.”
Bodine said he feels like he has a firm, albeit imperfect, grasp of the playbook.
“I’m still learning,” He said. “This is only my third week. That being said, I think I’ve made a lot of progress since I came in three weeks ago. I’m just trying to keep going in the right direction. Don’t make the same mistake twice. If you’re going to make mistakes, move on and correct them.”
Kyle Cook started all 16 games at center last year and had 66 starts in the previous five seasons, but the Bengals waived him in January, leaving Trevor Robinson, T.J. Johnson and Bodine as the only true centers on the roster.
A third-year player, Robinson appeared in 13 games with seven starts in 2012 while Cook battled an ankle injury. But Robinson had a pectoral injury that limited him to brief appearances in just six games last year.
Johnson is a second-year player who spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad. Guard Mike Pollak also can play center but has done so infrequently in his seven-year pro career.
So at the moment Bodine appears to be the best fit.
“He has the characteristics we are looking for in a center,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “ It’s not that Trevor hasn’t, we just put (Bodine) in there for right now.
“I think Paul has done a good job with him,” Jackson added. “He spends a lot of time with coach Alexander and (tackle Andrew) Whitworth and those veteran players. I think they are spending the time and getting him prepared.”
A lot the preparation, however, is up to Bodine, who is finding all of Jackson’s checks and audibles at the line to be a challenge after coming from a UNC offense that ran a play every 12 seconds.
“In college we were so up-tempo and fast-paced that we called a play and stuck with it, so I didn’t have to change anything at the line of scrimmage or anything like that,” he said. “There’s definitely a little bit of a grind going on. You’ve got to spend time in your playbook.”
Starting jobs aren’t won in the spring, but Bodine is doing everything he can to keep himself at the center of the conversation heading into training camp next month.