- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- With organized team activities (OTAs) in full swing for the Cincinnati Bengals, we'll be spending the next couple weeks taking a position-by-position look at where their offseason roster currently stands.
We started at quarterback Monday, wondering if Andy Dalton really could be pushed by his three backups. Then we looked at running back Tuesday, where we explored the feasibility of using a true fullback this year. On Wednesday, we questioned whether or not Marvin Jones and Mario Alford could be difference-makers at receiver. Thursday, we asked if the Bengals had enough time to build depth under Tyler Eifert.
Let's continue on the offensive line's interior, where we ask: How can the Bengals help center Russell Bodine improve this year?
Expected interior OL rotation: With a complete starting offensive line returning this season, the Bengals shouldn't have any changes to their first-team unit. As frustrated as some fans may be with Bodine, there really is no reason to expect him to be replaced as the team's starting center. In fact, the frustrations over Bodine that are evident on social media and message boards aren't shared by coaches, who view the second-year lineman as a valued part of the offense. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and offensive line coach Paul Alexander both praised Bodine for his efforts as a rookie setting the line and getting the ball snapped with regular fluidity to quarterback Andy Dalton.
Likewise, no changes will come to the starting unit at left and right guard, where Boling and Zeitler respectively return. Expect Johnson to resume his duties as the top backup behind Bodine at center, although, like other players on the line, he has enough versatility to line up at guard if needed. The hope is that Hopkins will play a lot like he did before a leg injury in last year's training camp sidelined him for the entire 2014 season. If he meets expectations, Hopkins likely would be the first guard off the bench, roving between the left and right spots a la Mike Pollak last year. Pollak as released earlier this offseason. Smith and Jasperse are not only competing with one another at center, they likely are competing for a single spot on the practice squad due to the high number of interior linemen above them on the depth chart.
Interior OLs' offseason goals: For Bodine in particular, this offseason is all about improvement. He had the worst cumulative Pro Football Focus pass-block grade on the team last season. He also gave up 19 quarterback pressures, according to PFF. Boling was the only Bengal who gave up more. As far as Bodine's efficiency as a pass-blocker, he apparently wasn't too bad when compared to the rest of the league. He was middle-of-the-road more than anything else. Per PFF, he ranked 14th among league centers in pass-block efficiency.
So, how do the Bengals improve Bodine? He just has to play a touch better. It's that simple. Otherwise, the team maybe has to get the ball out of Dalton's hands even quicker -- he had the second-quickest time before pass in the league in 2014 to Peyton Manning. The heavier focus on the run should help give the line even more aggressiveness, and get Bodine pushing forward more regularly than ending up on his heels.
Bodine's improvement also will come with improvement around him. If Boling cuts down on last year's 20 pressures, Bodine may have a better time plugging his zone on passing plays.