Quick Hits: Big Willie Has His Say; John Ross Burrows Into Workouts

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (11) rushes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
John Ross had one throwing session this offseason with Joe Burrow, the LSU quarterback who led the Tigers to the national title during a Heisman Trophy season.

While current Bengals have taken to twitter to blast shaky talking points surrounding their team, one of the franchise legends did it the old-fashioned way and answered the phone.

Willie Anderson, the Bengals' all-time right tackle and Pro Football Hall-of-Fame candidate, looked back this week on his career in Cincinnati and questioned the cheap tag that has been applied to Bengals president Mike Brown.

"I'm not defending anyone, but right is right," said Anderson, reminiscing about the turn-of-the-century Bengals who moved from Riverfront Stadium to Paul Brown Stadium and then hired Marvin Lewis as head coach and drafted Carson Palmer No. 1.

"Did Mike Brown do everything right? No. But the guys who played in my era, we can't say Mike was cheap with players," Anderson said. "Everybody got paid. He gave Carson $100 million, he took care of Rudi (Johnson), and he paid Chad (Johnson) when he outperformed his deal."

Anderson, who twice signed contracts with the Bengals that were the richest linemen deals in the NFL, pointed to the final three games of the 2006 season that resulted in losses and an 8-8 finish when one more win would have put them in the postseason in the wake of the 2005 AFC North title.

"That would have been huge if we had gone two years in a row in the playoffs," Anderson said. "There were games we had in the mix and we lost and Mike Brown didn't have anything to do with it. If I missed a block or Carson missed a pass or somebody missed a tackle. I don't know how you blame that on executives."

Anderson also referred to the 2011-15 Bengals that went to the playoffs five straight seasons in the context of the pundits' criticisms.

"It was only a few years ago you were saying they were one of the most talented teams in the league," Anderson said.

Anderson, who gave up 16 sacks in 13 seasons during a stretch he was regarded as the best right tackle in the game, has watched four left tackles from his era head to Canton (Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace) as well as a center (Kevin Mawae) and two guards (Will Shields and Steve Hutchinson). His resume says he should be among the next offensive linemen inducted into a Modern Era Hall of Fame class, but for the moment he'll take on another wrong.

"I feel compelled to fight for the current players because we're all in one big boat," Anderson said. "People still look at me as a Bengal. When they lose, they ask me, 'What happened to y'all?'"

Yes, Anderson thinks Cincinnati is a good spot for LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the presumptive No. 1 pick.

"You've got some great receivers, one of the best running backs in the league and an offensive head coach," Anderson said. "They know they've got to get better up front, but I think the line played better than people think in the last five games."

ROSS LONGING: You can't just write off Bengals wide receiver John Ross' first three games of last year because he broke a bone the next week and missed the following eight games. Ross, the first Bengal to catch a ball from Joe Burrow, eased himself back on to the field recently when he went for a workout with former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in southern California.

After week three of his third season, Ross seemed poised to become that big-play threat that has been envisioned for him.

"I want to build off those first three games. Those are the kind of explosive plays that I think I can make for the rest of my career," Ross said. "It's hard to get into Week 14 shape when you've been out eight to nine weeks, I don't care who you are. The coaches told me that, but that was hard for me to understand because I wanted to contribute like I did at the beginning of the season."

A quick review: after three weeks of play in 2019, the fleet Ross had 13 catches for 22 yards per catch, more receptions than Jarvis Landry (10) and more yards per than DeSean Jackson (19). Ross led all receivers with at least 10 catches on yards per.

"It doesn't hurt adding Zac (Taylor) and our new coaching staff to help me out and put me in position to succeed," Ross said. "It's what I've been working on. Slow down and focus on catching the ball."

Heading into his second year as head coach, Taylor is banking on making much bigger advances with his scheme. His players continue to express their belief in what he's concocting as two two-time 1,000-yard receivers, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, prepare to be a tandem. The last time the Bengals had that heading into a season was the 2010 opener in New England with Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens.

"I think the sky's the limit," Ross said. "We've got so much talent. I know for sure Zac is going to put it all together. That makes us all excited. We talk about it all the time. During the season, A.J. talked about it all the time. Just wait until we're all healthy, wait until we're all together. Stuff starts rolling, it's going to be very nice to see."

Ross has had one throwing session with Burrow, the LSU quarterback who led the Tigers to the national title during a Heisman Trophy season, has heard the buzz about the Bengals taking him.

"That definitely will be," said Ross of how intriguing that pick could be. "He looked like a national champion … I think everybody knows how talented he is. He knows how talented he is. I like the way he carried himself. He looked just as good as he did all season."

Ross also hears the criticism being waged against the Bengals and even though much of it is obligatory pre-draft hits and misinformation, he says that can go away quickly.

"It's become the norm for the media to attack a team that doesn't do that well," Ross said. "It's not OK, but it comes with the territory. Once we start doing better, we'll flip the script just like the San Francisco 49ers. Two years ago they won four games. Now they go play in a Super Bowl. That can be very much anyone's story. Just how hard you work in the offseason and how well the team comes together. We'll see where the next couple of months ago."

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