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Pro Bowl taps Whitworth

Posted Jan 15, 2013


Andrew Whitworth

Updated: 8 p.m.

Ever since he made the move full-time to left tackle in 2009, just about everyone you bump into thinks Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth should be a Pro Bowler.

It took an injury to Denver's Ryan Clady to do it Tuesday after Whitworth's seventh NFL season, but it is a move endorsed not only by the people in his building but ex-teammates, and even other left tackles.

"I wouldn't trade him for any left tackle in football," Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said Tuesday night. "He's a terrific pass protector. He's a great leader and I love how he represents us."

Which was pretty much the reaction at last year's Pro Bowl in Hawaii when Bengals.com asked Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith about Whitworth's absence.

"I’m not sure why he doesn’t get voted in; he’s one of those guys that’s deserving every year,” Thomas said that day in Hawaii. “You look at the tackles in the AFC and we’re very strong. It’s a question every year who is going to get in. I think Andrew deserves to be here.”

Smith, the former Bengal who practiced against Whitworth for two seasons and took a few snaps against him in a 2011 game at Paul Brown Stadium, agreed.

“He’s big as hell and you can’t teach big as hell. Whit’s a hell of a player. He can move, too. I would think he’s a top left tackle in the league,” Smith said. "It’s the same thing with Willie Anderson for all those years. Once he gets over here, he’ll be here for 10 years.”

On Tuesday, Whitworth, the AFC's first alternate at tackle, became the first Bengals tackle to make the Pro Bowl since Anderson went to four straight from 2003-06. And he's the first left tackle to make it since Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz went to 11 straight from 1981-91.

"This is recognition for Whit that we’ve felt was overdue,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said in a news release. “He’s been a key part of all our success in recent years, a great player on the field and a key leader in our locker room.”

For the second straight year the Bengals are sending a quartet to the Jan. 27 Pro Bowl (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5). Whitworth joins defensive tackle Geno Atkins, wide receiver A.J. Green, and tight Jermaine Gresham, all making their second straight trips. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who went last year, and cornerback Leon Hall, who has yet to go, could still go as third alternates.

"It's something to be proud of. It's an accomplishment. It's still bittersweet because you wanted your season to end better," Whitworth said from his home in Louisiana. "But you're excited for that opportunity and it's more of a team thing. For me it's a long time you've been working hard for your group and your offensive line (to) play well. As tackles Andre (Smith) and I strive to be two of the better ones in the league. For both of us to have good years and myself to keep playing well year in and year out. That's more the accomplishment. Put in the whole body of work."

Since Whitworth made the move to full-time left tackle in 2009 after three seasons of playing left guard and tackle, the Bengals are just one of seven teams to make the playoffs three times. And from a division known for its prolific pass rushers.

During that stretch Whitworth has put together a team-high streak of 67 straight starts that has seen it all. From quarterback Carson Palmer securing the 2009 AFC North title with seven fourth-quarter comebacks, to successor Andy Dalton throwing 47 touchdown passes for the third-most in NFL history for a quarterback in his first two seasons trailing only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning, to 19 100-yard rushing games by four different running backs.

At 31, Whitworth is finally getting his shot. And he's joining three guys that are making their second trip at the tender age of 24 in Green, Atkins and Gresham.

"It's awesome," Whitworth said. "I get to go out there with the kids. The old guy gets to join them. Hopefully they don't make me try to keep up with them out there."

He'll also be able to break bread with some old friends. With either New England's Vince Wilfork or Baltimore's Haloti Ngata headed to the Super Bowl, Whitworth figures his boyhood friend and LSU teammate, Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, is also going to get a shot.

And the wife of Thomas is good friends with Whitworth's wife Melissa.

Whitworth, who has been to Hawaii for the NFL Players Association meetings as the Bengals player representative, said he'll also be doing some work at the all-star game between the AFC and NFC. The 19-13 loss to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card playoff 10 days ago still sticks in his craw.

"It's definitely bittersweet. I'm not worried about how many Pro Bowls guys rack up," Whitworth said. "I'm worried about playoff appearances and Super Bowl matchups. I've accomplished going to the playoffs and I want to keep doing that.

"The next step we have to get is we have to win a playoff game. That’s what I'm trying to figure out. What I can do to help us get better? To be honest, I'm going to use this opportunity to see some of the guys that have had success. Pick their brains on how I can become a better leader and how I can be a better example and what I can do to push our team further."

Whitworth admits he's not pleased with how the voting works, which is split an equal amount among fans, coaches and players. You only have to go back and see his reaction when the results were announced last month.

"It’s a joke to me," he said. "I don’t worry about that stuff every year. I plan to try and make the playoffs and do what I do and that's it. That's all you can do. It doesn't matter one way or the other to me. I know people probably think that’s crazy, but it really doesn't.

"It's a popularity contest. You see it every year. There are guys that don't even play half a season, get put on IR and they still make the Pro Bowl. I think for young guys it's really important. It's their first chance to get a name, for people to respect what they do. For A.J, Geno. At some point, for most guys, they don't even think about it because the truth is once a young guy gets in there, he stays in there whether they play well or not."

But Whitworth also said then that Clady, Houston's Duane Brown, and Thomas deserve to go and he said it again Tuesday.

"When I say that (I'm not happy with the process) I say that not talking about my position or my situation. I'm just not a big fan of the process in general. But all positions. I'll always have that feeling," Whitworth said. "It could be done a little bit better, but that's not really the important thing. Truth is, I think this year people read it right. The success Houston and Denver had and the two guys played well and Joe, of course, is away one of the best ones.

"Like I said, no one keeps stats for O-linemen, so it's hard to judge those things. But you've got Pro Football Focus and different people that try to do some of that. I think that has definitely helped give O-linemen a little more notoriety to the position and people understand a little bit how people are."

ProFootballFocus.com is a web site that grades players and has been known to differ with how teams look at their players. It has been consistent with Pro Bowl grades for Whitworth.

Overall this season it rated him 10th in the NFL behind not only Brown (2), Clady (4) and Thomas (6), but also Bengals right tackle Andre Smith, tied for fourth with Clady. But the site also had Whitworth as the NFL's best pass-blocker at tackle. He thinks people have seen the enormous confidence the Bengals have placed in him the last two seasons by letting him take even the most lethal of pass rushers one-on-one.

"I judge it off when your guy makes plays. To be able to do really well in both facets all year," he said. "The last two years just playing one-on-one with guys with no slide protection, no helps. Just being able to (pass) block guys one-on-one all day."

 

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