TRAINING CAMP 2008 INDEX: Features, news, notes, video, photos, schedule and more* * *
Posted: 4:20 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Willie Anderson, who lined up next to Will Shields in a couple of Pro Bowls, settled in next to Nate Livings when the second offense worked during the Bengals' first practice of the season here at training camp at Georgetown College.
But that might not be how training camp ends.
Paul Alexander, who has coached Anderson for all of his 181 Bengals games, looks at you as if you have just stumbled upon the NFL this morning.
It is also Anderson's first camp workout as a reserve since his rookie year and when Alexander is asked if Anderson still has a chance to become the starter, the Bengals offensive line coach blanches.
Anderson "Oh yeah, oh yeah," Alexander said. "You're talking about Willie Anderson. A Hall of Fame-type player. You're not talking about just a guy. And with that it s a balance between respect for the player and his accomplishments and what's best for the team at this time."
Head coach Marvin Lewis echoed the thought that Anderson could very well be in the lineup Opening Day for the Sept. 7 game in Baltimore. When the media started talking about Anderson embracing his backup role to Stacy Andrews at right tackle, Lewis put on the brakes.
In his 14th season as the club's line coach, Alexander knows that anything written in preseason is a veritable flight of fancy. Take the opener in Anderson's rookie year of 1996. Injuries forced Alexander to start two rookies and neither was Anderson, the club's top pick.
"Stacy's best position is really right tackle. Willie's a key guy in our offense," Alexander said. "We're counting on him this year."
With Andrews' ability to play both guard positions, both players could end up in the lineup together if things change.
"I know the way this league works; you don't play with five guys," Alexander said. "So everybody is at their best position right now. When we need to make an adjustment, we'll do it. But inevitably another scenario unfolds and you have to be ready.
"We're pulling for Willie. We're looking forward to him coming back. We're rooting for him."
The key for Anderson coming back, as he said himself to the media under the bleachers as Toyota Stadium got pelted by rain, is not Monday night. That's when he practices for the second time in a day.
"It's tomorrow," Anderson said. "Football is all about recovery. The older you get the harder it is to recover. I feel good, but it's just a matter of going back-to-back, doing double days. It's the longevity of camp. It's just how long can I keep going on double days. I'm still 33 years old. But I still think I can play and be effective."
Anderson hasn't been told how many practices the club is looking from him. Three of four? Three of five. "I wish (I had an idea). ... They've always been kind of cautious about the amount of reps I've had. This year, hopefully, it shouldn't be any different."
Anderson calls training camp the most brutal part of football. He knows because his 19 Triple E feet always hurt and that always leads to something else and there have been 181 games of pounding so camp "is not my deal."
Especially at 33, and that's one of the reasons Anderson has mellowed since last month's conversation when he was told he would be with this team as a backup.
"I don't have the energy to try to compete," he said. "I know there are some times at training camp I won't be able to go full speed all the time .... I took the pride out. ... "
Yet he loves and lives for Sundays. Anderson played hurt down the stretch with torn foot ligaments in that last Pro Bowl run of '06, and a knee injury in the third week of last season limited him to a career-low seven games.
But he came to terms long ago with the pain. In just the past month, he came to terms with the pain of no longer starting. In large part because of Andrews.
"On top of (camp), knowing sometimes that competition brings rift," Anderson said. "I love Stacy Andrews. I raised him. The last thing I want to do is (have a) rift among the line. I don't want that to happen."
But don't be fooled. Anderson's competitive juices fueled his career. It's hard for guys to look at him as a backup.
"It was kind of odd. I won't even lie," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "I was going to say something to him, but I didn't want to get him upset."
Anderson's not upset. "I've been blessed to play 13 years," he said.
But he's not going away.
Particularly on Paul Alexander's blackboard.
"A great player like him, I don't know if he ever can," said Alexander of reconciling backing up. "It doesn't bother me at all that he wants more. When you want less, it's over. As long as you keep wanting more, that's good."