The Buffalo Bills are entering their third preseason game, which means the starters will play a majority of the contest. But the center position has yet to be settled. Ryan Groy and Russell Bodine have been rotating in and out with the starters throughout training camp, and it is likely that the coaching staff is going to make a decision soon. With the decision on the horizon, let’s put the two side by side and break their skillsets down.
Groy filled in admirably for center Eric Wood back in 2016, so most fans have an idea of what he brings to the table. During that stretch, Groy only surrendered two sacks and seven QB hurries. That’s nine total pressures in 290 passing snaps. Through two games this season, Groy has only surrendered one QB pressure in 25 passing snaps. He is a guy who has experience across the entire offensive line and is a key depth player. As Eric Wood stated in our film breakdown, sometimes this can hurt a player’s chances at starting because that swing tackle becomes incredibly important when teams only dress so many offensive linemen on gameday. The former Wisconsin Badger is not your typical center, though, let’s make that clear. Your average center isn’t 6’5″, 320 pounds. Most are in the 300-310 range, quick, but short, squatty frames.
Groy’s height does get the best of him at times. Defensive tackles are quicker off the ball and are able to get their hands into Groy’s chest. Typically, exposing your chest would cause the offensive lineman to be bull rushed right into the lap of the quarterback. But Groy has the lower body strength and base to withstand such power. While he can lose out of the gate, he is able to hold his ground while continuously hand-fighting to win leverage back. You will see that on this play. After the snap, Groy pops straight up and the tackle gets into his body. Groy’s hands are wide, and he is getting slowly rocked back. But he quickly counters with a double under move, gets his hands inside, and then anchors. Textbook counter to the bull rush.
Groy’s 33 1/4″ arm length has been a blessing in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme, a scheme that utilizes very aggressive pass sets along the interior. Because of this length, Groy is able to land punches from a distance. Post-snap, with his eyes on the Will linebacker (his assignment if he blitzes), Groy helps his teammate right guard John Miller by sending a punch to his defender while simultaneously kick sliding to his left. The three-technique defensive tackle to Groy’s left takes an inside move against left guard Vlad Ducasse and ends up in Groy’s hands. Groy withstands the initial blow and gets his hands inside, and the match is over. Peterman works through his progressions and checks it down to RB Chris Ivory for a big gain.
Having spent many years as a guard prior to coming to the NFL, he displays above-average movement when asked to pull or to get out into space on screens. He is fluid and can cover some ground, but he tends to struggle to target, lock on and stay engaged. Much of that has to do with getting his pads down, targeting, getting his hands placed properly and then mirroring athletic defenders while engaged.
Inside zone-Some of my worries about him are holding up. Second level blocking isn't where it should be for ZBS. pic.twitter.com/OLtvdeesxO— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 14, 2017
His best work comes when the offense dials up power and counter trey play calls where Groy is executing a down block.
Given his size and power, his hand placement doesn’t have to be perfect. He is still able to wall off defensive tackles as the guard pulls very similarly to a power forward setting a pick in basketball.
Free-agent pickup Russell Bodine is more of your prototypical center in regards to measurables listed 6’3″ and 310 pounds. He has started every game of his 64 game career. So far this preseason, Bodine has surrendered two QB sacks in 31 passing snaps.
While he may have prototype size for a center, his strength and base are not on Groy’s level in the passing game. Bodine will struggle with power rushes from interior defenders. They win far too often with simple bull rush moves because Bodine is unable to anchor. On this play versus the Panthers, former first-round pick DT Vernon Butler easily wins the hand battle as Bodine goes for the hug technique. Butler then grips Bodine’s jersey and executes a push-pull. The initial use of force by Butler causes Bodine to get walked backward. Bodine is off balance, and Butler just discards him en route to the QB.
It also happened against the Browns as Bodine is matched up versus the Browns’ starting defensive line. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi fires his hands and wins hand placement off the snap, and he just drives the center into QB AJ McCarron’s lap. Luckily, the pass was out of his hands quickly.
But where Bodine appears to have a slight advantage on Groy is in the execution of the run game. He has performed exceptionally well in this regard in both preseason games. This isn’t surprising because Bodine comes from an offense in Cincinnati that was “balanced.” Especially in the run game, they ran a multitude of run concepts, sort of what Bills fans can expect from Brian Daboll.
On this play versus the Panthers, Russell Bodine executes a difficult reach block to spring RB Marcus Murphy. The defensive tackle is in a shade technique, aligned on Bodine’s right shoulder. On the snap, the defensive tackle wins with lower pad level, but Bodine wins the leverage battle. Bodine is able to work to the left shoulder of the defensive tackle and swing his hips through to turn the tackle. This movement is not easy, and it gives Murphy a lane to get north/south on this outside zone run.
Bodine works well with his neighboring linemen when asked to combo block on inside zone runs, as well. He uses angles to get into position alongside left guard Vlad Ducasse, drives his legs to create vertical displacement of the defensive tackle, and finally, his violent hands don’t let the tackle shed the combo block. After most of the heavy lifting, Ducasse climbs to the linebacker, and Bodine finishes by swinging his hips through to help seal the alley for RB Murphy.
Who should start?
Through two games and the overall small sample size of runs and passes for both players, I think Groy should be the starter. Bodine has the experience having started all 64 games of his four-year career, and that is quite important, given the fact that the Bills are going to start one of three very young quarterbacks. That game experience will make the quarterback’s job that much easier, as some of the pre-snap responsibilities could be sorted out by the veteran.
But if we are talking purely on skillset and what Daboll wants to do on offense, based on the film thus far, then Ryan Groy should be the starter. He has some experience starting and performed well when given that opportunity. Groy has shown that he is fully capable of executing a diverse run game at an above average level. But where I think his skill set will be most important is in the passing game. His length and strong base help him to maintain the depth of the pocket. He rarely gets bull rushed or walked back into the quarterback. That far too often can kill a passing game because it forces the quarterback off the spot and gets them out of rhythm. Daboll and offensive line coach Juan Castillo are using aggressive pass sets by their interior offensive linemen and vertical sets by their tackles to create a nice pocket around their quarterback. They want their QB throwing from the pocket, so the center needs to be able to anchor and hold the line of scrimmage. That is something that Bodine struggles to execute consistently.
That’s why Groy is being given the chance to start this Sunday against the Bengals, a team that has a very good mixture of defensive linemen. The opportunity to play an extended amount of time with the starters with a game plan in place could seal the deal on this competition.