When you look at the current Bengals squad, it shouldn't be difficult to appreciate the evolution they've experienced over the past several years. Set aside the fact that this team is almost entirely different on paper than it was in 2010. What has changed is something that cannot be quantified on a depth chart; attitude, accountability, maturity, culture. Credit offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth for leading his teammates after buying into a new era in Cincinnati that began with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
Needless to say, Bengals fans are thankful to have Whitworth serving as a role model in the locker room and on the field, but his influence is extending beyond the Queen City. Cleveland's Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, is a player that Whitworth has invested time mentoring throughout the years and the rookie linebacker is thankful for Whitworth's attention.
"He's such a good person and a role model for a lot of kids who have aspirations to play at (the NFL) level," Mingo said. "He has done it the right way for many years now and he continues to do it."
Mingo attended West Monroe High School in West Monroe, Louisiana -- where Whitworth also graduated. Mingo recalls a time when Whitworth surprised his high school basketball team four years ago with a celebratory dinner after winning an important tournament game.
"I don't even know why he was at the game, but he comes into the locker room and tells us he's taking everyone out to eat...This guy is playing in the NFL and he's taking kids from his old high school out to dinner. That's the kind of stuff he does. The community loves him, the school loves him. I can just imagine what they think of him in Cincinnati."
Bengals players and staff certainly love Whitworth's leadership, and his charitable efforts aren't lost to the public. In May, Whitworth picked up the funeral bill for fallen high school football player Jaleel Gipson of Union Parish, Louisiana. Whitworth preferred his donation remain anonymous, but social media leaked his gesture.
Whitworth's admiration and support for Mingo isn't something he's keeping secret.
"Mingo is a guy I've continued to harp on," Whitworth said Monday. "He will tell you that I told him ‘When you get to college worry about your first three steps (after the snap) and nothing else.' Lo and behold, that's what he's known for. He gets off the rock and he gets off it explosively."
Whitworth and Mingo may face one another when the Bengals play the Browns on September 29th in Cleveland. Regardless, it's always good to hear the outreach by one of the Bengals most respected leaders.