Bengals sticking with Bodine? They should

CINCINNATI -- If the regular season were to begin this week, rookie Russell Bodine would be the Cincinnati Bengals' starting center.

According to offensive line coach Paul Alexander, there's no ifs, buts or maybes about that. Alexander believes Bodine is the guy at the position. From what I've been able to tell after three weeks of training camp practices and two preseason games, he probably should be.

"Right now it's full speed ahead with Bodine," Alexander said Monday afternoon, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "That kid has so much talent; he's loaded with talent. He has a tough, physical demeanor and he can block the big nose guards in our division. He's exactly the type of player we've been looking for."

At the moment when Alexander spoke with reporters from the Enquirer and Bengals.com, I was chatting with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson about Bodine and a few other unrelated topics. So I missed Alexander's firm pronouncement, and didn't hear about it until perusing Twitter moments later after the post-practice availability had ended.

Jackson didn't know about it at that moment, either.

I mention that because during our chat, Jackson didn't have the same unequivocal belief that Bodine's name was scribbled in red -- or in this case, orange -- ink on the Bengals' opening-day depth chart. While Jackson contended he likes much of what Bodine has done thus far as the team's starter at center, he still hasn't completely shut down the possibility that veteran Mike Pollak could earn starting time at the position.

"We're going to play it out and see how it goes," Jackson said. "[Pollak] is a returning player who has played here and played well for us. Like anybody, he deserves an opportunity to see what he can do with the guys. We'll see how it all unfolds. Pollak is very important to us and what we do."

Then, most importantly, Jackson added: "I'm sure [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] will figure that one out as we move forward."

As much as Bodine's position coach may say the position battle is over, it technically isn't.

But it should be.

Yes, Bodine has had his shown inexperience with his share of rookie miscues. Yes, his snaps have been problematic at times this preseason. And yes, the recently-injured Pollak gave the Bengals valuable minutes as an interior lineman at right guard last season when Kevin Zeitler injured his foot.

While those statements are true, so are these. Bodine has become more comfortable and stable at the position. He has cleaned up his snap issues in recent days, playing a completely clean game Saturday against the Jets in that regard. Bodine also has shown some of the physicality and strength that made him instant eye candy for the Bengals in May while they were looking for mid-round linemen in the draft.

As much as Bodine's snap issues may have caused headaches at times in training camp, his overall play has been the magic pill that's made them go away.

"He has the right characteristics," Jackson said. "Every now and then, there's a [botched] call or two here or there, but I've been happy with him. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to push him as far as I can push him because again, I want all these guys to achieve and be as good as they can be."

Few plays encapsulate Bodine's value like the Bengals' goal-line push on third-and-1 late in the first quarter of Saturday's game. As the play began and running back Giovani Bernard got stood up at the line of scrimmage, Bodine and the rest of the offensive line started pushing him and the Jets' defense into the end zone. As Jackson put it, a "glob of bodies" fell foward with Bernard in tow.

The push resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run.

"You get on the goal line, your offensive line has to take pride and get the ball in the end zone," Bodine said. "You can't get that close and not get in the end zone.

"That's kind of a statement situation for all of us."

The message that play clearly sent to Alexander? The rookie's ready.