CINCINNATI – Paul Alexander has always counted heavily on veterans. Alexander has been coaching the Bengals’ offensive line since 1994. Those first years he had Bruce Kozerski and Joe Walter around to help get his message across to younger players. Willie Anderson learned from them and passed down the process as he became the veteran.
That role is Andrew Whitworth’s.
“I’ve always placed a premium on the older guys teaching the younger guys,” said Alexander. “I think you learn it better when you teach it to someone else, and I think it’s part of the responsibility.”
Not everyone is up to that responsibility but Whitworth has never shied away from the role, even as he takes a few days off from practice. It is part of the rehab process from offseason knee surgery but while he’s not in pads, he still councils the younger players, reinforcing Alexander’s teachings.
Guard Kevin Zeitler and center Trevor Robinson were starters as rookies last season. The Bengals drafted three offensive linemen this year; guard Tanner Hawkinson in the fifth round, and tackle Reid Fragel and center T.J. Johnson in the seventh round.
“Each one of them has a different talent or skill that you say, man if this guy could kind of hone this in they could really do well,” said Whitworth. “I think they continue to make progress but like anything else this time of year nothing is ever good enough. You got to keep pushing yourself. They are that mentality. They understand that. That’s what the progression needs to be and they are all for it and I think that’s a positive thing.”
Whitworth was cleared to practice at the start of the training camp. Part of the role of being a veteran is knowing just how much preparation time you need to be ready to play.
“Just trying to have a plan for dealing with training camp stuff. Any time you’re coming off surgery, you really don’t know how it’s going to react at all,” said Whitworth. “Strength-wise it’s good, feels solid. You’re still going to have some bumps along the road as far as football’s a violent game, so you’re going to have to get yourself used to working yourself back through things. That’s why a lot of guys that have postseason surgery don’t do a lot in the preseason sometimes just because you’re kind of working through the whole deal of recovering from a surgery and trying to do football stuff. So we’ll continue to have a plan to deal with it.”
Whitworth has started every game the past four seasons and has missed just six games total in his seven seasons, all at the end of the 2008 season when an ankle injury sidelined him. There isn’t much concern that this current time off the field will delay him being ready for the opener at Chicago on Sept. 8.
“He doesn’t need a whole lot,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “The thing you want to make sure of is that it’s important that he continues to have the stamina and everything to go out there and play a 12-, 14-, 15-, 16-play series. When you’re an offensive lineman, that’s the one area that never really rotates.”
Whitworth played in his first Pro Bowl last season. He’s manned the left tackle spot since 2009, quietly becoming one of the top tackles in the league.
“That’s a mutual respect,” said newly acquired linebacker James Harrison, who had plenty of matchup against Whitworth while playing with Pittsburgh. “He’s a good player. He’s held me away from the quarterback quite a few times. And I’ve had a little success here and there. That’s something I don’t even have to worry about any more.”