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Advertising Honors: Rookie of the Year

Even with rookie running back Jeremy Hill ensconced as Offensive Player of the Year, it didn't take long to find a Rookie of the Year.

In fact, there were two of them waiting in the wings with center Russell Bodine and fullback/tight end Ryan Hewitt taking co-Rookies of the Year honors.

"Bash Brothers,' is taken, so call them the, "Cousins of Collision." The pair reflect an amped-up physicality that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson demanded in his first season and expects even more in his second. They also run across the Mel Kiper Jr. spectrum.

The Bengals coveted the 6-3, 310-pound Bodine so highly in the draft that they traded up 12 spots in the fourth round to take him out of North Carolina. It was only the third time in their history (running back Ki-Jana Carter and tight end Matt Schobel) that they had traded up and they were rewarded with a guy that took the most snaps on a playoff offense with 1,090.

The 6-4, 246-pound Hewitt came the other way out of Stanford when the Bengals won the first of their season-long battles with the Colts and signed him as an undrafted free agent. Once they saw him work in pads that first week of training camp, they switched him to fullback but Hewitt was versatile enough to fill in at tight end for both Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert while becoming a staple in a running game that went from 18th  last season to sixth in the NFL.

Bodine had his rough spots, but he played so much and executed so many responsibilities that he had to make it. Hewitt didn't play as much with 472 snaps and didn't have nearly as many as responsibilities as Bodine, but his play was so consistent and effective that he had to make it, too.

"Hewitt is as smart and as technical a football player as I remember," says Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander.  "He's just a good football player. How he just plays the game. He knows how to leverage people. He understands technique and he very rarely blows an assignment."

Those that believe Gresham is going to return this season in free agency are in the minority at Paul Brown Stadium and there is a school of thought that says Hewitt can fit in right next to the pass-catching Eifert as the No. 1 tight end. He lacks Gresham's elite athleticism and isn't the vertical threat in the passing game, but there are those that believe and he can do what Gresham has done and protect against big, agile pass rushers.

After watching him work against 6-3, 255-pound Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann in the second game of the season, running backs coach Kyle Caskey was impressed.

"He's a known rushing defensive end, outside linebacker type and Ryan dominated that," Caskey says. "Ryan stepped into a role none of us expected to be happening to us this year because of the injuries to Tyler and Jermaine. Ryan not only filled the second tight end spot, but he stepped in and played the first tight end spot in the playoff game."

But it was his work at fullback where he delivered his most telling blows. His lead block against one linebacker sprung running back Giovani Bernard on the second longest TD run in Bengals history, an 89-yarder against Carolina.

A few weeks later Hewitt pulled across the line and took out another linebacker on Hill's 60-yard touchdown run against Jacksonville that gave the Bengals a 10-point lead with eight minutes left in the game. He also helped ignite Hill's 62-yard run on the last play of the first half in New Orleans to set up a field goal. Hewitt wasn't on the field for Hill's longest run of the season, the 85-yard TD against Denver, a play where Gresham made a big block.

But the Bengals had 14 runs of 20 yards or more for fifth most in the NFL and Hewitt was on the field for 10 of them. They had four runs of at least 45 and he was there for three of them. Only Seattle, with five, had more when it came to 45-plus runs.

"We thought of him mainly as a fullback and as the season progressed he really developed into a much more dynamic, versatile player for us," Caskey says. "As a fullback he did some really good things with the type of lead blocking we were asking him to do. There's some spots he can continue to get better, but he goes in there  and churns his feet on contact. He really opened up some holes for some big tailback runs."

Take the Carolina play. Hewitt got up on 6-1, 235-pound backer Thomas Davis instantly and got his helmet inside him to ward him off.

"Thomas Davis is a really good player, but Ryan will go in there and blow anybody out," Caskey says. "He did his job so well that he almost knocked over Gio popping out of the backside because Gio took a different track and wasn't behind him."

It was a running play that also defined Bodine's rookie year.

It turned out the season was on the line back on Oct. 26 at PBS with 57 seconds left against Baltimore and the Ravens leading, 20-17. Facing a fourth-and-one for the winning TD, head coach Marvin Lewis went for it all. Jackson, showing his commitment to the New Physicality, called three runs from the 6 to set up the last play.

The Bengals took out their big goal-line personnel and spread the field with four receivers. The original call was pass, but if the Ravens responded to the spread with spread personnel of their own and played coverage, quarterback Andy Dalton was looking for the sneak. They dropped back and Dalton followed Bodine pushing on Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams. Dalton had plenty of help, but it was Bodine tying up Williams, a 335-pound hydrant and the kind of strong player the Bengals drafted Bodine to block in the AFC North.

Alexander, who presided over his 20th offensive line last year, anointed Bodine the starter on Draft Day and at the end of the season said he believes Bodine will grow into a Rich Braham-type in invoking the name of one of the best centers the Bengals have ever had.

"He had a good season. When you factor in he was a rookie, it was really good," Alexander says.  "He had a better rookie year than a number of guys we've had go on and become good players. The future is bright. I think he is going to be a bright center with good leadership. I think he'll be similar to a center like Braham in a lot of ways, both in personality and skill."

Guard Mike Goff, who played the first 83 of his 171 NFL games in Cincinnati, as well as former left guard Nate Livings and current left guard Clint Boling (who also took 1,090 snaps this season), are guys that Alexander says Bodine outplayed as rookies.

"And they became good players," Alexander says. "There's a lot of room for improvement, most of it technical and he'll get that as he goes.  The professional techniques are dramatically different than the college techniques. You take what you've done your whole life and blow them up and it's tough. He's learning as he goes."

Bodine not only stood up physically, but he stared down the checks and balances of the NFL chess game. Alexander watched him go from an offense "as basic as you can have in college," to an offense he describes as complex as any in the NFL.

"All things considered, I thought he did a tremendous job…The communication was good, " Alexander says. "I think he'll do a better job next year."

The Cousins of Collision hope the hits keep on coming.

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