Rookie center Russell Bodine gets chance to start
CINCINNATI (AP) Center Russell Bodine would snap the ball, hold a block a couple seconds and watch his running back dart past and head upfield, making one defender after another miss.
It worked at North Carolina. He and running back Giovani Bernard will get a chance to try to make it work in the NFL, too, perhaps as soon as August. The Tar Heels tandem will be in the spotlight during the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp.
Bernard quickly grew into one of the NFL's most productive backs as a rookie last season. The Bengals recently drafted Bodine in the fourth round and will give him a chance to win the starting job at center.
They ran plays on the same field Tuesday as part of the Bengals' organized offseason practices. Bodine is still learning the playbook, so most of the time he was with the reserves watching Bernard do his thing whenever he got the ball.
''He's a special back,'' Bodine said. ''The thing that always blows me away is he's just as fast laterally as he is straight ahead. He has great vision. He can hide behind a lineman and all of sudden squirt through a little hole and make a run that should have been 2 yards into 4 yards and that sort of thing.''
Bernard knows what the center can do, too. Bodine was a dependable blocker at North Carolina.
''I saw how physical he was,'' Bernard said. ''He just plays hard, he's very fast and he's strong. His weight-room strength converts on the field and you can see that. He has an attitude on the field, and I love that.''
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is determined to improve the running game this season. The most unsettled spot is in the middle of the line. Veteran center Kyle Cook was released in the offseason.
Third-year veteran Trevor Robinson was at center with the starters during 11-on-11 plays Tuesday.
The biggest challenge for Bodine is learning the intricacies of a very different type of offense. The Tar Heels ran a pro-style offense his first two years, then switched to an up-tempo offense. North Carolina would call a play at the line, and the center didn't have to get involved in making all the blocking adjustments that are the norm in the NFL.
''It's almost completely different, especially my last two years where we were an up-tempo spread team,'' he said. ''There's a lot of similarities to my first two years when we were a pro-style team.
''There's definitely more here. I'm trying to go in the right direction. If I make a mistake, don't make the same mistake twice.''
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is being patient as Bodine goes through a learning curve.
''I think he'll get that pretty quick,'' Alexander said. ''There's really nothing about him I don't like.''
Bodine has played center at every level starting with peewee football, where coaches immediately pegged him for the position.
''I think they pretty well guessed,'' Bodine said. ''I have three uncles who all played center or nose guard in college, so I played center and nose guard by default. They matched up body types and said, `Let's be realistic here.'
''Playing in the middle, you're not going to have a (play) where you're not going to be hitting somebody, so that's something I enjoy.''
NOTES: The Bengals reached deals with running back Jeremy Hill and defensive end Will Clarke on Tuesday, leaving cornerback Darqueze Dennard as their only unsigned draft pick. ... Cincinnati took Hill in the second round out of LSU. He's expected to get a chance to replace veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who isn't as much of a receiving threat, as the team's power runner. ... The 6-foot-6 Clarke will join Cincinnati defensive line rotation. The Bengals need to replace end Michael Johnson, who left as a free agent.
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