It's easy to see why Andrew Whitworth is one of the most well-liked players in the Cincinnati Bengals organization and around the league. Not only does he do the job(s) that is asked of him by his team, but he isn't one to shy away from stating his mind in a clear and professional manner. It had to have been a no-brainer when he was elected as the team's representative to the NFLPA.
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com recently caught up with Whitworth and touched on a myriad of topics, ranging from the offensive lineman's health and where he sees himself lining up on the line in 2014. Whitworth had a nice bounce back season in 2013 after offseason knee procedures to clean up some issues that plagued him in 2012. He didn't play poorly in 2012 by any means, but if you were to poll fans and his peers, the Pro Bowl that followed that season seemed more like a "lifetime achievement award" than one that was totally deserving.
Regardless, Whitworth says that his knee feels much better this offseason and that it should be in much better condition going into 2014 than it was in the offseason last year.
And the knee surgery that plagued him this past season is starting to become a distant reminder rather than a daily occurrence.
"I’m starting to feel a lot better. I’m starting to feel a lot more explosion and I’ve got some fire in my knee back," Whitworth said Monday. "I tried to push it a little too hard and a little too fast."
If Whitworth had to do it all over again, he says he wouldn’t have played in the 2013 Pro Bowl and would have had the surgery to deal with bone spurs right after the season instead of waiting.
"I just wish I realized that until you truly get on the field, even though you feel good, the strength and stability is not quite there yet," Whitworth said. "I should have eased my way in. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s really my own. I rushed back and re-injured it."
Interestingly enough, Hobson notes that Whitworth came very close to being a candidate for Injured Reserve before the 2013 season began. The reason that this was being kicked around was because Whitworth couldn't do "position specific" drills and techniques during camp, even though his knee didn't feel too bad at the time. He went on to play and became one of the most important offensive players of the season, starting at both left tackle and left guard.
When you look at the stat line and watch the game tape, the Bengals offensive line seemed to perform better with Whitworth at guard and soon-to-be free agent Anthony Collins at left tackle. With Whitworth approaching 33 years of age and entering his ninth season, kicking him inside might be a good idea for both production and for extending his career. Big No.77 doesn't necessarily agree.
"I’d prefer to play left tackle. I’m a long, lean-lever guy without thick arms or legs. I’m built to play tackle," Whitworth said. "I feel like that’s where I’d like to stay. That’s not a firm thing. It’s just what I would prefer."
Whitworth, who broke in with the Bengals as a guard in his rookie year of 2006, showed Pro Bowl physicality inside. He says he can be just as physical outside.
"I know this is a business and they have to do what they think is best for the future of the team and not for just one or two years," said Whitworth, who is signed through 2015. "I know I turn the big 33 this year (Dec. 12) … I feel like I can play tackle for a long time."
There are likely a couple of factors going into this, namely that of pride and fear of his contract being re-structured with a potential position switch. However, if we know Whitworth as the exemplary team player that he has proven to be over the course of nine years, he will do what is best for the team. With Hue Jackson's apparent re-commitment to running the football this season, Whitworth is excited about the prospects of a top-ten rushing offense that he helped lead in 2009. But, that was five years ago and no one can be certain that that form can be rekindled.
There are other questions to be answered besides Whitworth's preference to stay at tackle in 2014. Collins has proven that he can be a quality starting left tackle in this league and the Bengals should find a way to hang on to him. To do so, they will need to give him starter money and the position causing an internal tug-of-war with Whitworth's preference. Is Whitworth truly healthy and effective enough to start outside in 2014? Was the Collins/Whitworth switchover late in the season an aberration, or is in an indication of what could be in the running game?
The other big conundrum then lies with Clint Boling. Early indications point to him missing time in Training Camp for recovery, if not being a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP). This news makes the Whitworth and Collins decisions crucial for the outlook of the line next season. Throw in the mixed reviews of Kyle Cook at center and the impending free agent status of Mike Pollak and there are some huge steps to make in getting this line together.