Updated: 6-4-08, 10:40 p.m.
Willie Anderson didn't take snaps with the first offensive line in the first moments of Wednesday's team work during this week's voluntary practice open to the media and head coach Marvin Lewis said after the workout he won't for awhile.
"We'll continue to work Willie in there," Lewis said. "We'll see how it plays out ... at this point he's just getting back. It's not fair to put him back out there right away."
Lewis has indicated that last season's knee injury that stopped Anderson's streak of 116 straight starts and limited him to seven games has been healing and that he should be ready to go.
AndersonAnderson looked fine when he returned in the season's last two games and on Wednesday he said he's in better shape than at this time last year when he was dealing with a foot problem. Anderson wouldn't elaborate on the personal business that kept him in Atlanta until now, but Lewis said he wanted to be here earlier.
"We told Willie we're not sure where he is with things and with Stacy kind of finished the year there, we'll see what happens," Lewis said. "We'll be able to fit all the pieces together as we see how we go.
"Willie wants to be a starter. He's been a great player. He really didn't get the recognition until recently, but I think he's been that kind of player for a long time. He wants that opportunity to get back where he belongs. We've got to make a judgment on him doing it. I have a lot of faith in Willie."
So do his teammates. Quarterback Carson Palmer calls him "Everyone's big brother," and right guard Bobbie Williams said his linemates didn't rib him when he came back because "There's a grandfather's clause."
Anderson, the four-time Pro Bowler who turns 33 next month, couldn't suppress a smile when he said, "I just wanted to show everybody I can walk."
He reiterated what he said at the end of last year, that he could have come back sooner, and made note that people inside and outside the building thought he was done.
He even referenced the message board on Bengals.com.
"Craziest comments; ever," Anderson said, "Oh my God. What people think about you."
Lewis has hinted that Stacy Andrews, the team's franchise player, is going to start somewhere on the offensive line and he has spent the three previous weeks at right tackle, but he has also started games at both guards.
AndrewsOn Wednesday, Andrews was on the same line that has been intact for those three weeks, next to Williams with Eric Ghiaciuc at center and rookie tackle Anthony Collins and guard Andrew Whitworth on the left side.
Anderson said, "It's an up-in-the-air decision," and that he's not surprised Andrews is running with the first team.
"When I saw Joe Montana get cut," Anderson said, "I knew then that you always have something to prove."
Anderson signed a five-year extension before the 2006 season and says he's convinced he can play at a high level for two or three more years. If the Bengals release him, there won't be a salary cap savings because his $3 million salary about matches the accelerated proration of the bonus.
"When I embarrass myself or get somebody hurt," he said, "I'll (stop) playing."
But Palmer only had to see one play Wednesday to be convinced that "it's the best I've seen him in two years." Palmer ran an outside zone pitch play and watched Anderson shove cornerback Johnathan Joseph into a coaching group on the sidelines.
"He went around the corner 100 miles per hour and dove," Palmer said. "We're not even in pads and he's taking corners out, popping up and running back to the huddle. That's the only play I needed to see."
The Bengals are in their last of four weeks of voluntaries before next week's mandatory minicamp. That could be when a revamped Bengals' new first O-line is unveiled if they like how Anderson looks.
Those last two games of '07 were the 180th and 181st of Anderson's career, making him just the seventh player in Bengals history to reach that level. He's currently tied with kicker Jim Breech and four shy of Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz's 185. Cornerback Ken Riley is the leader with 207.
LewisISSUES AND ANSWERS: Anderson, who has seen it all, from Carl Pickens to Corey Dillon to Chad Johnson, invoked the name of the first two when asked about the latter. Johnson appears headed to next week's mandatory minicamp despite an offseason he has ripped coaches, management, the defense, his contract, demanded a trade, and threatened a holdout.
"We played with Corey. We played with Carl Pickens," Anderson said. "I don't know the impact (on the locker room). If you have a situation with him and the coaches, they have to deal with it. Nobody should jump in and give their two cents worth. That's between him and the coaches to deal with. It's always been that way."
News that Johnson is headed back didn't get much of a reaction. Maybe because they knew this was coming:
On Wednesday night, agent Drew Rosenhaus said Johnson hasn't made up his mind about coming next week.
In fact, according to quotes posted on ProFootballTalk.com, Rosenhaus says he hasn't made up his mind on anything even though it was plastered all over the Web Tuesday that Johnson had dropped trade demands and was coming in.
"[T]hat's news to me," Rosenhaus said, according to PFT. "You know the reports about Chad making a decision about reporting to camp or not asking for a trade, all of that's a bit premature and talking to Chad tonight, you know, the feeling is that we're still in discussion about what is in his best interest and according to Chad, he's not made a final decision yet.
"So I think that the reports that surfaced are a bit premature and may in fact be jumping the gun. At this point in time Chad has not decided what he's gonna to do in terms of a trade, minicamp, that's still up in the air and really won't be decided until next week."
Earlier in the day, Palmer would only say, "I'll be happy when he gets here," and that he preferred to talk about the players on site.
Lewis, noting that Johnson's comments in the current ESPN The Magazine were from May 23, will believe it when he sees it. He must have had a premonition.
"No. 1, he's not here. No. 2, he said those things awhile back. It's really not a concern," said Lewis, who indicated players would be fined the $8,000 per mandatory day missed. "Chad's got a contract to play football. He's got to make some decisions on his own. Chad didn't say anything to me. Saying things and doing what you said, we've been talking about this for awhile."
Johnson's shot at the defense ("If we want to be like Indy and New England, we have to pay and bring in some difference-makers on defense"), didn't go unnoticed.
Although, defensive tackle John Thornton laughed and said he was just kidding when he said, "We're trying to play better defense for Chad."
Thornton "That's his opinion. That's cool. There are two sides to that so I really can't comment," Thornton said. "We have to play better than we have. We know that. We accept that."
Thornton doesn't envision a problem when Johnson arrives. He figures that all the other guys who haven't been here, either, like wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, left tackle Levi Jones, and cornerback Deltha O'Neal, will also show for the mandatory.
"It was good to see Big Willie here. The team is coming together," Thornton said.
"I have no idea," said Thornton, when asked how he thought Johnson would impact the locker room. "He didn't really miss anything. I don't think there's going to be a problem. He's a five-time Pro Bowler so there's probably a little bit more leeway. I know on defense we need a lot of work, the guys that are here are getting a lot of good work. We have to wait and see."
Tight end Ben Utecht, fresh from the Colts, said he recalls wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne showing up for all the mandatory stuff, but in the last couple of years they didn't make it to all the voluntary practices "and nobody had a problem with it."
Utecht, who wasn't aware Johnson's camp is saying he's coming next week, says he's looking forward to meeting his two new wide receivers.
"I'm excited. All I know about Chad and T.J. is from playing against them and they're great competitors," he said. "And great competitors make you better.
"We're all professionals here. I think we've shown focus and that this team is going to do whatever it takes to win."
Glenn Holt, the one Bengals receiver who extended his stay with the club during the offseason with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, says it's always tough to tell when Johnson is serious.
"I don't know what he's got going with the organization, but we still love him," Holt said. "The receivers are just pretty much worried about keeping their position on the team. Those guys will make us better. You know Chad. Chad's a good guy. You can never really take him seriously. I think we'll accept him and just play our game."
"SQUANDERED": It's the first time Anderson's been back since the releases of Chris Henry and Odell Thurman and all he could do was shake his head.
"The two biggest things were two young guys throwing away the valuable opportunity they had," said Anderson, who recognized the efforts to get them back on track from associate strength coach Ray Oliver to director of player development Eric Ball to security director Rusty Guy.
"Especially with what I knew was going on inside. Coaches like Ray Oliver doing the behind-the-scenes stuff you never get credit for," Anderson said. "Everybody did things for those guys to help them out and to see that opportunity squandered, that was kind of shocking."
Anderson, always the straight shooter, made no bones that the veterans tried to motivate them with the possibilities of the amount of money they could make.
"If they played consistent football, it's unbelievable the amount of money they could have commanded (compared) to where they are right now. It's a shame," he said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
The Bengals practiced on the stadium field Wednesday after a morning of rain. They had a full complement of running backs with Kenny Watson dressed for the first time in a media session.
Also dressed in a media session for the first time was strong safety Dexter Jackson easing in after battling a muscle strain. Chinedum Ndukwe continued to take snaps with the first team and knocked down a goal-line pass in a red-zone drill.
Defensive back Ethan Kilmer, who didn't participate in the last couple of media sessions, was on the field Wednesday playing cornerback.
Rookie defensive tackle Jason Shirley, on trial for a DUI incident in Fresno, Calif., wasn't in attendance.