New names in an old rivalry


Kyle Cook

If it's not Joey Porter, it's James Harrison. If it's not Aaron Smith, it's Brett Kiesel. If it's not Clark Haggans, it's LaMarr Woodley.

For the Bengals offensive line, the Steelers of defensive coordinator Charles Richard LeBeau are the NFL's answer to that fuse box in your basement that operates in any era no matter the contraptions it juices.

Take Bengals center Kyle Cook. He makes his eighth start against the Steelers on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium (8:40-ESPN, Cincinnati's Channel 5) and for the first time he's not facing the estimable anchor, Casey Hampton. But he's already had a few turns against Hampton's replacement, 320-pound fourth-year player Steve McLendon.

Plus, the Steelers lost longtime middle linchpin Larry Foote to injury last week but they still have the relentless Lawrence Timmons inside after a season he became the first Steeler since Porter to tie or lead the team in tackles, sacks and interceptions.

"They're kind of a plug-and-play defense. Casey had a long career with the Steelers and he did a good job and I think the next guy in is the same way," Cook said Wednesday after the Bengals walkthrough in preparation for Thursday's first full-scale practice of the week.

"He'll do his job. He's a big, strong guy. They know what they want out of the guy; that guy knows what he has to do. The next guy in is younger, strong, quick, athletic, just like Casey, except for the young part."

Cook has been there for the blood feuds. The '09 game at PBS that came down to the final 14 seconds for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis's only home win over the Steelers when Cincinnati jackhammered out of a 20-9 fourth-quarter deficit.

Or The War of 18-12 a few weeks later in Pittsburgh when neither offense scored a TD. Or the Bengals 13-10 slugfest win without a TD last year at Heinz Field.

"It will be different because you're playing somebody new. But from the same aspect, it's Dick LeBeau's defense," Cook said. "He's the same guy. It's what they do. It's Pittsburgh Steeler football. You pretty much know what to expect from them."

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth goes all the way back to Porter, the Steelers right outside backer eventually replaced by Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who now plays SAM backer for the Bengals.

So with first-round pick Jarvis Jones showing enough burst on the edge already to be on the verge of supplanting Jason Worilds, Whitworth doesn't want to hear anything about a Steelers demise.

"Hey, Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. One thing you can trust is whoever is going to step in for Harrison from last year or Foote from last week, they'll play with the same style and technique and they'll be really good," Whitworth said. "That system. They know how to do it. You can guarantee whoever steps in next is a good football player and is going to be able to produce."

Whitworth is a good place to start for a Bengals offensive line that allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to hit the deck just twice last Sunday in Chicago. One was on a quarterback sneak and the lone sack occurred after the safety undercut the primary route, and when Dalton looked to the next receiver, he had to eat it when rookie tight end Tyler Eifert slipped.

Whitworth had to watch it on television and while he couldn't say enough about how well his replacement, Anthony Collins, played in keeping Bears right end Julius Peppers off the stat sheet, he's threatening violence if the doctors don't clear him soon.

"Last week was hard enough to watch. I was going to get violent if we didn't start to see an opportunity to get on the field. Thank goodness it's here," Whitworth said.

Whitworth, acknowledging for the first time Wednesday that he had a procedure for what he calls "a re-injury" on his knee, said he's ready to play, but is waiting for medical clearance.

Whitworth wouldn't elaborate on the procedure or the injury that derailed his comeback from offseason surgery to relieve scar tissue.

"When the doctor clears me, I'll be allowed to go. No matter how much I argue with him he's going to have my best interest at heart," Whitworth said. "As soon as they give me the green light, I'll be out there.

"The doctors didn't allow it and every time I fought tooth and nail (to play last week). They're trying to protect me. They're looking at the long haul and I'm looking at the short term."

Asked if it's now merely a question of when and not if, Whitworth said, "No question."

"We had a little procedure done. The quicker you go post-procedure, you're endangering yourself, so we had to give ourselves a little time to heal and as soon as we're ready we're ready. It's Marvin's call," Whitworth said of Lewis.

Whitworth said his rehab from the offseason surgery had been going well until training camp, when he said he suffered an injury that wasn't altogether related.

"What's crazy, just bad luck, or a bad day, it was a totally different episode that caused another injury because you're already dealing with something that already has been worked on," he said.

The one thing Whitworth knew through the whole thing is that if his close friend and pupil, Collins, had to be called, he would be ready and good. So he wasn't surprised. Before the game Collins texted Whitworth back in Cincinnati, "I got you." Whitworth fired back, "I never doubted you."

"I've always said this: He could start for a lot of teams in the league," said Whitworth, recalling when Collins was a free agent before last season. "I bet there are a lot of teams out there whose left tackles had bad games Sunday and are saying, 'I wish we'd got that guy when we had the chance.' "

Whether it's Whitworth or Collins, Jarvis Jones is going to be the guy at some point. Jones, 23, is just another reason Cook doesn't pay attention to the stats some love to pull out this time of year. Lewis 1-11 vs. the Steelers at home.

"No offense. I think the people who look at statistics are the ones that write the articles. Who cares?" Cook asked. "The team that won that game you're talking about, it's not even the same team. These kids were coming out of high school when that happened, so I don't think they care about it, either. 'Dating back to 1945 every time at the Bengals there's a winner.' It doesn't matter. What matters is Monday. That's all we have control over.''

Although the Bengals ran for just 63 yards in the opener and are still stinging from last year's Pittsburgh game and that 14-yard rushing effort on 16 carries, Cook thinks the Bears game is a lift for the line.

(Whenever offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talks about how hard it is to run the ball in the NFL and not to be ashamed at times about having to throw it, the Steelers game is the one he's talking about. And here they go again. No Hampton, no Foote and the Steelers throttled what was supposed to be Titans running back Chris Johnson's coming-out bash last week behind a ballyhooed new line on 2.7 yards per carry.)

"It's encouraging. It's encouraging for a guy like AC to play great football like that," Cook said of the opener. "When Andrew gets back, obviously it gives us that next guy off the bench that's much more seasoned. He played great football."

And if the Steelers defense has some new faces, then the Bengals offense has undergone an even bigger facelift since that game two days before Christmas when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger uncorked the greatest gift of all in the form of safety Reggie Nelson's interception in the last minute.

Now the offense is sporting a double tight-end look, a sleek running back, and a slot receiver it didn't have in the last meeting. Not to mention a healthy veteran center.

"You've got new weapons," Cook said. "You've got guys that are healthy. Guys like (Mohamed) Sanu. Sanu was out when that game came around. I was just coming off a possible season-ending (ankle) injury. You've got guys fresh; it's early in the year.

"Hopefully I would think that as an offense we're a little bit more cohesive. We've had a good group of guys this spring and this training camp where we haven't lost a lot of key components (and) we've haven't had to substitute teach along the way."

And the Bengals may get Whitworth back for his third-generation matchup with Jarvis Jones. But then again, Collins's first NFL start came against one James Harrison five years ago. Names and faces down through the years. Just another thread of a rivalry wound tighter than a shelved Whitworth.

Heard that Lewis said the other day he has a shot to play against Pittsburgh, Whitworth couldn't help getting one final shot in to help the art of persuasion.

"Who said that? Really? They might let me play this week?"

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