Willie Anderson, the greatest Bengals right tackle who ever lived, the best one of his time and Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate, is back on the scene during the draft season. During the festival in Nashville that begins in two weeks on April 25, he'll be on stage to announce the Bengals' second-round pick on April 26 as teams use Friday night to honor first-round picks from their past.
It's a long way from April 20, 1996. If it were today, he would have been in New York waiting to be picked 10th by the Bengals. Instead, he was mowing his mother's lawn in Mobile, Ala., in anticipation of a "shin-dig," his family was throwing later that day for the entire neighborhood.
That's when Bucs head coach Tony Dungy called and asked if he'd want to play in Tama Bay. Of course the answer was a polite yes. But the Bucs were picking 12th and Anderson knew, "The Bengals were telling anyone who'd listen they'd take me at ten if I was there. It pretty much wasn't a secret."
During Anderson's 12 seasons, 182 games, five first- and second All Pro teams, and four Pro Bowls with the Bengals, he also served as team leader as the ultimate stand-up guy. Win, lose or controversy, the thoughtful Anderson was always in front of his locker ready to offer insightful looks into the game and the team.
He delivers again in the longest Hobson's Choice podcast ever, 46 minutes of pure, uncut Willie. From opining that he'll hold up his credentials to any Hall of Fame offensive lineman from his era to why he thinks the contract the Bengals gave quarterback Carson Palmer back in 2005 changed football.
Among the topics:
_Anderson points to linemates Eric Steinbach and Andrew Whitworth as critical second-rounders he played with in Cincinnati (as well as Chad Johnson and Corey Dillon) and says teams are made in rounds two through four.
"I think the second round is some times more important than the first-round picks," Anderson said. "In the first round, everyone gets a chance to pick from a barrel everyone knows is pretty damn good. The second-round pick, that's where scouting and GMing and your evaluation really comes into play."
_Anderson says he'd put himself up against any of the O-lineman from his era recently installed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and if people challenge him on that he'll point to all-time sack leaders like Julius Peppers and say, "Get on Twitter and ask Peppers. He's on Twitter." So is Michael Strahan, another Willie guy.
Anderson observes wryly the year he retired after one season with the Ravens, 2009," "is the year Twitter took off," and now he sees videos of what would have been unknown offensive linemen back in the day. He's amazed when he recounts a ProFootballFocus.com staffer recently informing him his pass pro grade in his last season with the Ravens was the fourth best all-time for a right tackle.
"I was an old man," he says.
_Early in his career he read a quote from Bengals' Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz when a reporter asked him about Anderson's struggle with weight.
"He said something I'll never forget," Anderson says. He said, 'Great players know how to take care of themselves.' When I read that, I was determined never to come in out of shape again."
Later in his career he became a mentor for Whitworth, a guy he calls, "My little brother," and says he should be on the list of one of the Bengals' five best offensive linemen.
_He says the great running back Dillon, with a bow to linebacker Takeo Spikes, is his most talented Bengals teammate and recalls a play from the 2001 opener the Bengals beat the impending Super Bowl champion Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium that included a play Anderson didn't see Dillon, but heard him take on a safety.
_"He hit that damn dude so hard, the dude catapulted about two yards backwards," Anderson said. "That sound that made. I never heard that sound again from a runner hitting a defender."
_No doubt, Anderson says. The late great Reggie White at defensive end was the best player he ever faced.
"I was 22 years old," Anderson says. "I shut him down, but he physically beat me up. I was hurt the next four to five weeks. When Reggie would hit into you, it would be like your skeleton shakes. He was hurting my skeleton."
_The Willie Anderson Linemen Academy.net in Atlanta is devoted to training middle school and high school linemen because he hears coaches talking about how they are underdeveloped when they get to college and the NFL. He sees nothing wrong with the spread offense, but he believes offensive line fundamentals are ignored on the younger levels in the name of points. He says he was in the middle of the evolution late in the 2005 season.
"I joke with my friends a lot," Anderson says. "When we gave Carson $100 million, I think football changed forever. I told (Bengals running back) Rudi Johnson it's no longer important about you and me getting 100 yards. If we get it, that's great. But we absolutely must protect Carson."