Posted: 7:25 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Every Cincinnati school kid knows the Bengals season comes down to how they protect Carson Palmer and the offensive line's biggest booster is Palmer himself.
Safety Kevin Kaesviharn no longer plays for the Saints, but his hit in the preseason last year that broke Palmer's nose still stings in Bengaldom as the signal the Grim Reaper was coming.
On Wednesday, Palmer discovered that the Bengals' left side of the line is in for a reunion at the Louisiana Superdome Friday night when left tackle Andrew Whitworth lines up next to left guard Nate Livings in the 8 p.m. preseason opener (Channel 12 and 1530 Homer AM in Cincinnati).
The last time Whitworth and Livings did that came in 2003 when LSU beat Oklahoma for the national title. Palmer also looks to 10-year man Bobbie Williams at right guard and is confident.
"Everybody is talking about how they haven't played enough with each other; not enough as far as longevity and understanding where everyone is stepping," Palmer said. "They played the same position in college that they're playing now and Bobbie can help Anthony (Collins) or Andre (Smith) or whoever it may be (at right tackle). He's got enough veteran years that he can help out the young guys."
After starting Livings in the final six games of last season at left guard, the Bengals were impressed enough to keep him in the starting lineup when they moved Whitworth to left tackle. While Whitworth was drafted with the 55th pick in the 2006 draft, Livings didn't get a call and waited to sign one of the more lucrative free agent rookie contracts in the league with Cincinnati. He played one year with Whitworth in college and has been with him ever since. Last month he also made the four-hour trip south from his home in Lake Charles, La., to Whitworth's football camp in Monroe, La., to hang out some more and do some line stuff.
"I pretty much know what he means in his language," Livings said. "Before he even makes the call, he can get my attention by just saying, 'Nate,' and I know what he's talking about."
Livings has pretty much got tunnel vision for this one. When he walks into the building he says he'll think of only one thing.
"Executing the offense," Livings said. "That was in 2003. This is 2009 and what's done is done."
Palmer has to like the sound of that. He knows what he wants to see in his 12-15 snaps.
"Execution," he said. "I'm not worried at all about lack of effort or lack of physicalness. I think we'll be an extremely physical team and definitely a team that plays hard. But there's a difference between that and a team that plays physical, hard, and executes. Just comes out and make sure everybody is stepping the right way."
It's a formidable start. Whitworth draws Will Smith and Collins at right tackle gets Charles Grant. Smith and Grant are first-round picks who have combined for 78 career sacks, and in the middle of them is Sedrick Ellis, the tackle the Bengals coveted in the 2008 draft that went right before them at No. 8.
If you want to know how Collins is doing during Smith's holdout, tune in. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is encouraged with what Collins has done since the end of last season, when he started the last six games at left tackle as a rookie. Since he also played right tackle at Kansas, Alexander hasn't noticed much of an adjustment.
"Collins has been steady. He's made tremendous improvement over last year," Alexander said. "He played right tackle in college. That's not an issue. I see no transition, to be honest with you. Some guys can just play both sides because they're symmetrical types of athletes. He's that type of player."
With guard Dan Santucci out with a serious foot injury and guard Evan Mathis day-to-day with a muscle problem, the Bengals are down to 11 linemen and Alexander counts that as a serious challenge because he considers the Saints two-deep with NFL quality lineman.
The Bengals have young backups but they do have 12 counting converted D-tackle Jason Shirley after he spent his third day at guard Wednesday. Alexander said he thought Shirley could play and, who knows, maybe he'll go both ways? With Pernell Phillips (groin) and Frostee Rucker (hip) down, head coach Marvin Lewis said Shirley might play on the defensive line.
Alexander is upfront when he admits he's not quite sure what his inexperienced line is going to do with the lights on even though, "I usually have a feel." But he is positive about center Kyle Cook in making what amounts to his first NFL start.
"His confidence is growing and my confidence is growing," Alexander said. "And the quarterbacks' confidence is growing and everybody's confidence is growing."