Posted: 7:25 p.m.
Another test for the Bengals offensive line Thursday night in New England, but a much different one than presented by the slanting Saints last Friday night. The Patriots come with more power, more looks, more Pro Bowlers, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth knows what that means because he's already seen them twice in his three seasons.
"Every guy they've got," Whitworth said, "is an expert at what he does."
It turns out that right tackle Anthony Collins is relying on experts past and present on his line, starting with Whitworth and right guard Bobbie Williams, and for good measure, the greatest right tackle the Bengals have ever had checks in on Collins' DVDs.
"Whit's 'The Governor,' and Bobbie is 'The Boss,' " Collins said as he looked ahead to his second NFL start at right tackle. "So when Whit doesn't answer the phone, I call Bobbie. So somebody needs to answer the phone or I'm going to be mad."
Collins had a smile when he said it. He usually has a smile because he's outgoing and personable, but he and his mates will say it's been sanded down a bit. He's still got it, but they say he's different than he was last year as a rookie. Williams said as recently as last week that Collins had not only matured mentally, but physically.
"He just meant I'm coming into my own," Collins said. "A rookie season is a rookie season. I'm just maturing on and off the field. Being more like a veteran player in my second year. Help the team win."
Collins says the difference is simply, "A man and not a boy."
It is looking more and more like Collins is going to be The Man when the regular season starts Sept. 13. The NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported Tuesday, via ProFootballTalk.com, that the Bengals and once projected right tackle, No. 1 pick Andre Smith, are $5-10 million apart in a holdout that Wyche says threatens to go up to at least the start of the season.
When Collins was switched from left tackle to right tackle in the spring, he went to The Man, Willie Anderson, and phoned the four-time Bengals Pro Bowl right tackle just retired in Baltimore. Collins hasn't talked to Anderson since, but he hasn't taken his eyes off him on tape, either.
"I'm trying to be like Willie Anderson in every step I take in maturing and playing on the field," Collins said. "He stayed low and he used his size and power. His technique was great. So I'm working on my technique every moment I get."
The initial reviews off of Friday night's game in New Orleans were good against a veteran pass rusher in Charles Grant. His play could have been better (he got called for a hold on a run), but the coaches liked what Collins did in the running game and the way he drove guys off the ball was something that's been added since last season.
And, Anderson salutes Collins for the classroom hours and on Tuesday he also offered this bit of advice beyond the technique:
"You've got to stick with the technique; don't change," he said. "Once they know they're making you change, they've got you. What gets them frustrated is playing a guy who is always doing the same thing every play."
At 315 pounds, Collins has 30 fewer pounds than Anderson and they're different players. They were teammates in the last preseason and Anderson got a pretty good look at him.
"He's quicker. I relied a lot on my power, but I think AC has a great punch," Anderson said.
Asked what technique he suggests Collins study, Anderson said, "My hands. AC can get to the guy, but there are two fights. Getting to the guy is one fight. Then when you get your hands on the guy, that's when the other fight starts and you have to finish."
If it sounds like Collins is listening to a lot of people, he is. Whitworth says, "He picks up well. He listens well. That's the key to being a good offensive lineman, being able to be coached and work on your technique and make a difference in that technique based on how you're coached and he does that really well."
Whitworth says that if Collins continues to funnel his physical skills into his current narrow focus, the sky's the limit. Collins is watching Anderson's mind games as much as anything else and Anderson says it's more of a mental game than anything when it comes to protecting the passer.
"In the running game, it's just mauling. When there's a pass play, you have to concentrate," Anderson said. "You go through the process. You talk to your guard. Read the defense. Then you've got to be in your own zone and be able to dance and after the play hope you're still touching him and he's not touching your quarterback."
Collins may not have Anderson's power, but if he can harness some of the same techniques, he can generate a good deal of it. He says he's got more muscle than last year and says his mind is in a good place.
A product of Beaumont, Texas, Collins now lives primarily in northern Kentucky but he spent some of his last days before training camp in Louisiana attending the football camps of Whitworth in Monroe, La., and left guard Nate Livings in Lake Charles, La.
"Just showing some love for my teammates, especially the O-line," Collins said. "We showed the kids some drills they can use. I was able to clear my mind, get away from it all, do a camp and see where we were when we were kids."
Anderson likes the mindset of this particular kid. Collins had been mentioned virtually in the same breath as a friend of his, Baylor left tackle Jason Smith, and when Smith stayed in school and Collins left Kansas early for the draft, Collins went in the fourth round and Smith went No. 2 overall.
Like many guys on this team, Collins burns to prove.
"I think AC has a chip on his shoulder and I don't know of many lineman that have a chip on their shoulder and don't have some kind of success," Anderson. "AC has to be loving this. He's getting time, he's getting experience and even though he doesn't have any control over the situation, he's getting himself on film for everyone to see."
There will be a lot of film study after this one. The Pats, as usual, have a bunch of different looks on third down and it's not always their usual 3-4. They've got a 4-3 addition and sport a new pickup in former Pro Bowl pass rusher Derrick Burgess with whom Collins must deal. And then depending when the Pats go to a "big 3-4" or "small 3-4," he could be going against a tackle like Richard Seymour or a linebacker like Tully Banta-Cain.
"I thought we came out of it pretty well," Whitworth said of New Orleans. "We've got to clean up things; it's not perfect. But I think Anthony and I went against two pretty good ends and we graded out pretty high, and we'll have to do it again this week."
Case in point:
Whitworth got called for a hold, but it wasn't against his man. When the Saints blitzed, he collided with the back trying to pick it up so he grabbed the defender in order to prevent quarterback Carson Palmer from getting drilled.
"We're getting used to each other when it comes to picking up blitzes and stuff like that is going to happen in the preseason," Whitworth said. "I took about 19 snaps Friday, so I figure it will be about the same this week and we just have to keep improving."
The surfacing of Burgess in Foxboro is a reminder just how dominant the Bengals were at right tackle the decade after Anderson arrived via the 10th pick in 1996. In 2005 and 2006, Burgess rung up 27 sacks for the Raiders and in an '06 game Anderson blanked him. That was also the season Anderson shut out sack aces Julius Peppers and Kyle VandenBosch.
Anderson also went through a holdout the year he was drafted, not signing until two days before the third preseason game. He broke in as an extra tight end and ended up making his first NFL start at left tackle in the sixth game.
Anderson says if Smith invokes Justin Smith and signs the day before the season, he should be able to contribute in November and December. But he also says if the Bengals are doing a good job protecting Palmer, he doubts anyone is getting into the lineup.
"I think he could still play. There's no question it's easier for a veteran to miss training camp than a rookie," Anderson said. "If you haven't played in the league, you have to get used to the conditioning and the pace."
"He'll get his five weeks of training camp and it will be during the season," Anderson said, referencing the Bengals offensive line coaches. "You know Paul Alexander is going to be coaching him early in the morning. You know Bob Surace is going to be coaching him early in the morning and they'll be going late at night. And he won't be eating lunch with the guys, he'll be up with the coaches."