Andrew Whitworth lines up another new pass rusher on Sunday.
BENGALS LT ANDREW WHITWORTH VS. RAIDERS DE KHALIL MACK
This is how long Whitworth has been pounding heads and matching wits with the top pass rushers in the game:
When the Bengals were in Tampa a few weeks ago for a pre-season game, he noticed the Bucs legend leading out the team was none other than Simeon Rice.
The same Simeon Rice that was Whitworth's first opponent as an NFL left tackle on Oct. 15, 2006 in Tampa during Whitworth's rookie year. Talk about sudden change. Whitworth moved over in the second half from left guard after Levi Jones was injured to take on Rice, coming off a 14-sack season.
"That's when you know you've been playing a long time," Whitworth says. "When you played against the legend running out with the flag."
You can't make this stuff up. One of the NFL's best pass protectors in Whitworth goes against one of the league's top young pass rushers during Sunday's opener (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Oakland.
The 6-3, 251-pound Mack, has been advertised as the draft's fifth pick in 2014. After profootballfocus.com graded him the top 4-3 outside linebacker in the game as rookie, he's switched to defensive end but is roaming up and down the line looking for places to rush. When the Raiders are in their nickel package Mack is matched against either Whitworth or right tackle Andre Smith. But Whitworth plans to see him plenty since the Bengals mix it up and Mack usually lines up away from the tight end. Another challenge in nickel is he lines up as wide as he can, almost in what they call a Nine technique as he tries to get as much leverage as possible.
Business as usual for Whit. The week after he took on Rice, he made his first start at left tackle against Carolina and got a little taste of Pro Bowler Julius Peppers. Next week it is San Diego's Melvin Ingram. The week after that it is old friend Terrell Suggs in Baltimore before Tamba Hali comes in with the Chiefs.
"Another great rusher," Whitworth says of Mack. "He can do everything. He's got all the moves. He's an instincts player. He's going to adjust to what you're doing."
Whitworth compares Mack's style of play to 6-4, 258-pound Demarcus Ware and his 127 career sacks. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, a 10-year offensive lineman with the club, compares him to Elvis Dumervil, the 5-11, 255-pound ball of butcher knives that has given the 6-7, 310-pound Whitworth problems in the past solely because of leverage stemming from the nearly foot gap between them.
"He's a more athletically gifted Dumervil, which is a heck of a thing," Lapham says. "A more athletic Elvis Dumervil. He can get under your pads and bull-rush your butt. He's so strong. He pulls you violently. His pad level is low.
"I know the Bengals like to man up and protect with their tackles going 1-on-1," Lapham says. "But this guy is worthy of a couple of guys paying attention to him. I'd like see them chip him or use a tight end on him as well. I definitely would be looking for No. 52."
At 33, Whitworth is coming off a Pro Bowl-type season. Profootballfocus.com had him as the only left tackle that didn't allow a sack while giving up one hit on quarterback Andy Dalton and allowing him to get hurried just eight times. Meanwhile, Mack had five sacks, 10 QB hits, and 40 hurries.
"There's only one season of tape and its rookie year tape," Whitworth says. "It's hard to judge because through the year he's learning. You'll have a much better player this year. I'll feel him out a little bit."
But mentally, Whitworth is going into his 10th season far from feeling out anything. He's trying to prove by the time he turns 34 in December that he can not only still play, but that he can play like a young Whit. Which is why he's dropped 30 pounds since April. He's already stacked up his next five opponents after Mack before the bye week and there are more than 50 sacks looking at him.
A visual look at the Bengals final 53-man roster.
How long has Whitworth been doing this? Simeon Rice was the third pick in the 1996 draft, when Mack was five years old. Sunday will be Whitworth's 137th NFL game. Four more and he passes Lapham into eighth place for most games played by a Bengals offensive lineman.
His personal goal is pretty simple and it doesn't involve games played or contracts.
"As a leader, with the tone I set as a player, and as someone who pushes us all to be our best," Whitworth says on the eve of his 10th opener and yet another young fast and big thing lining up looking for another sack.