Posted: 10:45 a.m.
The next time Willie Anderson plays, and he's confident that he can in his 13th season, it will be his 182nd game for the Bengals.
Only five men will have played more.
But no man is ahead of him in the Bengals' current effort to revitalize the running game. And Interstate 71, where Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson have continually mapped out franchise record rushing numbers reported Monday he's having the kind of active offseason from which he grew accustomed before last season.
And No. 71 is not under the construction of last offseason.
"I feel 100 percent better than last year," Anderson said from Atlanta. "I feel a lot better. I'm more active, my knee feels good. I'm going to be ready for May."
Even before Monday, when the Bengals put the franchise tag on Stacy Andrews, Anderson's 350-pound protege, he heard the whispers of friends.
Coming off a season where a torn tendon in his foot and a bone bruise in his knee wiped out his streak of 116 straight games and then returning to his varied business interests, they wanted to know why he keeps playing.
After all, the man just signed a nice deal in 2006 in which he has already realized $16 million on top of the $30.6 million contract he signed in 2000 that made him the highest-paid offensive lineman ever.
But, "I love it. This is something I want to keep doing," Anderson said. "We all know when you're done, then you're a used-to-be. Nobody wants to be a used-to-be. And you know I've got that chip on my shoulder about right tackles not getting respect. And I want guys who haven't seen me play at a high level, who just saw me last year, see what I can do. Even at 13 seasons there is a lot driving me."
Anderson admits hearing head coach Marvin Lewis talk about re-establishing the running game has got the juices flowing. It is no coincidence that since he settled in at right tackle in that second season of 1997, the Bengals season rushing record has been set five times in making him a frontrunner for this decade's all-NFL team.
Standing right there, wearing No. 71, is the guy on which Lewis can hang the rushing hat.
"I know Marvin told the team after a game that I wasn't at that until we as a team and as an organization fall in love with the running game, we're not going anywhere," Anderson said. "He told the same thing to the defense. Until we consistently stop the run ... and we've talked about it. I love to hear it. We got away from it. We got too cute."
Anderson doesn't blame anyone for the Bengals not only sliding to No. 24 in NFL rushing but also for Carson Palmer coming within seven throws of setting a franchise record for most passes attempted with 575.
"We've got a great quarterback. He's a great passer," Anderson asked. "We've also got a quarterback that knows running it 25 to 30 times a game is what wins. When the run is called, we have to block it so that it gives everyone confidence. Nothing against our passing game. It will make our passing game better. Now you can get Chad and T.J. one-on-one. I think you'd rather have five catches for 115 yards instead of 10 for 90. You get the big plays."
AndersonAnderson isn't taking about ancient history. In the two games late last season that the Bengals immediately wrested control against a playoff contender and allowed offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski to open his playbook—the 35-6 win over the Titans and the 19-14 win over the Browns—the Bengals pounded the ball. They ran it 36 times for 148 yards against Albert Haynesworth-less Tennessee and another 33 times for 155 against Cleveland.
Anderson missed the Titans game but returned to set the tone against the Browns. The last game he played before that, Cincinnati chewed on the Jets 41 times for 177 yards back on Oct. 21.
And the passing game thrived. Chad Johnson caught three touchdowns against the Titans and had a 102-yard day against the Jets while Houshmandzadeh scored against the Jets and Browns.
"Marvin is talking about being sick and tired of hearing what guys can't do. He just wants guys to go out and do what they can do," Anderson said. "That's for all of us on the line. Me included. We all have to play better. If there's anyone satisfied that they had a good year (on the line), they better think again."
Lewis said last week Anderson showed signs late last season of making the road back at 33. On Monday, Anderson said he's been able to work out consistently this offseason as opposed to last because he's got a better handle on his foot after originally suffering the injury in late 2006. The knee, injured on the last offensive snap of the third game last year that turned out to be a Kenny Watson touchdown run, is healthy, he says. Without divulging numbers, he says he wants to lose some weight in defeating a career-long challenge.
"It's hard for me to believe, but when I saw Joe Walter running around in his 13th year, covering up on passes, going downfield, I was thinking, 'Gee, I can't see myself doing that after 13 years.' But I can see why now. If you can do it until you're 40, why not do it for as long as long as you can?"
Walter, the man that Anderson replaced at right tackle, as well as Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz, and center Rich Braham are the only linemen to play 13 seasons for the Bengals.
"I don't feel beat up this offseason. I guess because I didn't play much," Anderson said. "But I'm excited and anxious to get going."
Even in the 13th year.