"You may see something a little different than you're used to seeing here in Cincinnati," said Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson before Wednesday's practice, but he wouldn't confirm the idea is for them to all come out together anonymously, a la New England.
But they have come out of the preseason together like no Bengals line in recent memory in allowing Rudi Johnson the best Opening Day by a Bengals running back in 35 years and paving the way for the most points in an opener in this decade in the 27-13 win over the Browns.
And they'll have to play that well this Sunday when Minnesota Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams brings his bigger and faster band into PBS with a much different style than Cleveland displayed.
"They're all healthy and they're guys that have been playing together for a long time. They've got a lot of experience with each other," said quarterback Carson Palmer of his guys. "They did a phenomenal job just blowing open up pockets and giving me plenty of time to step in to throw and move around. I can't say enough about what they did last week."
Palmer said plenty when he observed that the line played so well while he was sifting the Browns on 26-of-34 passing, that he felt like was in a 7-on-7 drill. It's the kind of outing the Bengals don't normally do early. Since 2000, the earliest in a season before last Sunday that they scored 27 points in a game was Game 6.
BENGALS 100-YARD OPENERS: 1970: Jess Phillips 15-130 in 31-21 win over Raiders; 1971: Essex Johnson 8-113 in 37-14 win over Eagles; 1985: Larry Kinnebrew 18-101 in 28-24 loss to Seahawks; 1992: Harold Green 21-123 in 21-3 win over Seahawks; 2001: Corey Dillon 24-104 in 23-17 win over Patriots; 2004: Rudi Johnson 26-126 in 27-13 win over Browns.
For once, the opposing offensive line is struggling with injury and inexperience. Vikings Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is out for the year and backup Cory Withrow has just seven NFL starts. Rookie right guard Marcus Johnson, a second-rounder, made his first start last week in a tough outing in which the Vikes could manage just 26 yards on 16 carries in the 24-13 loss to Tampa Bay. Head coach Mice Tice, the old offensive line coach, is a firm believer his team will get better when his line does.
He compares the loss of Birk to what would happen to the Bengals if they lost Anderson, meaning they need more than one guy's play to make up for the difference. The least experienced player on the Bengals line is right guard Bobbie Williams with 29 NFL starts.
"We have to work ourselves through to play better. It takes time," Tice said in Wednesday's conference call with the Cincinnati media. "We've got a rookie right guard, a backup center. These guys have to work together more and more each week. But it doesn't happen overnight."
The Bengals know all about that from last year. Once center Rich Braham got back in the lineup from an Opening Day injury and the left side of guard Eric Steinbach (elbow) and tackle Levi Jones (knee) got their second wind, Palmer and the Bengals took off in the last nine games. They didn't score 27 points last year until Game 11, and Johnson didn't get a 100-yard game until Game 4.
In fact, Johnson's 126 yards on 26 carries last Sunday in Cleveland marked the club's first 100-yard game in September in the Marvin Lewis era and the most in an opener since Jess Phillips ripped off 130 on 15 carries in a 31-21 win over the Raiders in the first game at Riverfront Stadium to open the 1970 season.
"We're a more mature team," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "There were years Levi was a rookie, Steinbach was a rookie, there were years we were banged up. Last year, going in we had to mix and match on the offensive line for the first five weeks. It makes a difference. Those five guys work as a unit.
"It's so critical and technical to be used to playing to the guy next to you. Fortunately for us, knock on wood; we keep this unit together and consistency running the ball. Hopefully in three weeks we're showing the same technical proficiency that we showed the other day. Guys got down their technique and understood how we wanted to attack them."
They attacked with Johnson for just the third 100-yard opener for the Bengals in the past 20 years and put up their most points in an opener since the 36-35 loss in Tennessee in 1999.
Big, veteran O-line
Palmer and Anderson are doing some bonding. Anderson, the 10-year vet, is calling himself "Carson's watchdog" and Palmer is amazed by what Anderson's body goes through during a game.
"He's got more bags of ice than anybody, electrical stimulants, three or four trainers working on him," Palmer said. "It's funny to see him before and after the game ... I don't worry about Willie. He's banged up before and after the game, he's banged up during the game, but he's always ready to play on gameday to play his best ball game."
Anderson played just 25 preseason snaps as he rehabbed from knee surgery, but he said it's the best he ever felt going into an opener. Part of the reason is he imported Team Willie from Atlanta on Friday and Saturday to work on his body.
"To say all they do is massages or are just chiropractors does them an injustice. They do a lot more than that," Anderson said. "They worked on a couple of other guys and every guy had a great game. Levi Jones. John Thornton. After all these years, I've learned how to do maintenance."
Tice loves the way Anderson plays because he has been so consistent down through the years. He also likes size, and the Bengals have plenty of it. And they know they'll need every ounce against Tice's revamped defensive line.
The Vikes added immovable tackle Pat Williams from the Bills in free agency and put him next to the beastly Kevin Williams for a tackle combo that Bratkowski believes puts the Vikings in the defensive elite.
"They're not unlike a lot of defenses we went against last year," Bratkowski said. "Washington, Philadelphia. Bigger defenses. Baltimore. Buffalo ... an extremely big test early in the year."
Palmer can hear his guys talking about the matchup.
"They know they're going up against a great defensive line," Palmer said. "There's an opportunity to see a lot of different pressures and they're going to have a lot of pressure on them up front. They're up to the challenge. They're fired up looking forward to this game."