Willie Anderson, the greatest right tackle in Bengals history, came into town last weekend as one of the franchise's ten legends helping celebrate the NFL's 100th birthday. After Sunday's game he bumped into current right tackle Bobby Hart after a downtown dinner as Hart called out to him with a Harty, "Hey Big Willie."
Hart wanted to "talk ball," and he couldn't have picked a better guy because no one talks football more enthusiastically and passionately than Anderson. The conversation extended into a parking lot with the two trying out technique on each other.
"Just talking. Good talks," Hart recalled before Wednesday's practice. "Just talking ball. Bouncing ideas off each other. What he thought about certain things, what I thought about. It was just a good conversation."
Here's the thing. Hart really can't get into what he and Anderson talked about. Because he may like to try it out on the Rams Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in London.
"It was a lot. My point of view, his point of view," Hart said. "Any time you talk to a great player like that, you can always take away something. You're always learning. You continue to learn each day and evolve each day. To be able to bounce ideas off each other, off a guy as great as Willie, it was awesome."
WHIT HAD DALTON'S BACK EARLY: The Bengals see another one of their all-time offensive lineman Sunday when Andrew Whitworth plays his 207th NFL game lining up at left tackle for the Rams. His first 168 games came with the Bengals when he was an anchor left tackle and a key locker-room leader for a franchise that went to six post-seasons between 2009 and 2015.
And he admits it's going to be odd playing against the stripes.
"It is going to be weird. The kids have asked. They're excited to see the Bengals," Whitworth said Wednesday night from Atlanta, where the Rams stayed over after beating the Falcons.
"I am too. It's a place you feel like you gave your heart and soul to it. It's not one of those situations you see a guy leave and is mad about the team. I gave it all. I'm excited to see the team, excited to see Zac (Taylor). I've played long enough that it's a cool moment if anything else."
After Whitworth worked with Taylor at the Rams for the last two seasons, he became a big fan. And that's a big guy to have on your side, never mind that he's 6-8 and 330. If Whitworth is with you, he's with you.
Just ask Andy Dalton.
When the Bengals pulled off their re-boot of 2011 drafting A.J. Green one and Dalton two in response to Carson Palmer's trade demand, Whitworth is a major reason it worked. After the Bengals lost their first two pre-season games by scores of 34-3 and 27-7, he headed off a revolt by some defensive players that planned to fly to California and try to entice Palmer out of retirement.
Whitworth had help from other veterans, such as right guard Bobby Williams coming out publicly endorsing Dalton with "No. 14 is my quarterback," and Whitworth was in the middle of a meeting with head coach Marvin Lewis and some team leaders. The revolt was defused. Dalton outplayed No. 1 pick Cam Newton the next week in Cincinnati, they started the season 6-2 and went on to make the playoffs five straight years.
"Defending Andy is something I'll always remember. I thought it was the right thing to do," Whitworth said. "We won a lot of games.
"It's the 10-10-10 thing. Ten days. Ten months. Ten years. I just hope ten years from now the guys I played with there in that locker room can look back and go, 'Man, you know what? I can honestly say that dude did have my best interest at heart and really wanted what's best for me.' That's the only thing I would care about beyond respect on the field. That the guys respected you as a teammate."
He's certainly got it from the guy whose career he helped jump-start.
"Whit was my guy. He was the first guy that I talked to when I got drafted," Dalton said. "I stayed at his house during the lockout when we were doing some workouts up here. He's meant so much to this team and this organization. He had a great career here, not only with what he did within the organization, but with what he did in the community. Whit was a guy that had an unbelievable time here in Cincinnati."
AND THE BEAT GOES ON: How many years has it been where nearly every Bengals story during the season starts out with injury news?
OK. We'll try. It seems like since Dalton broke his thumb against the Steelers Dec. 13, 2015. Then, a few weeks later there was the 2016 Pro Bowl. It should have been a milestone moment for a team coming in with its best record in 34 years and sending as many players to Hawaii as ever before. Instead, it's where tight end Tyler Eifert tore ankle ligaments and, really, it hasn't stopped since. In 2016 A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard went down for the count near the half-way mark, in 2017 first-round pick John Ross was never right, and they lost both Green and Dalton for pretty much the last half of 2018.
Now here we are one game away from the 2019 half-way point and Green (ankle) still hasn't played.
But it looks like he's getting closer. He certainly wants to play. How many seven-time Pro Bowlers would line up on the scout team, like Green did Wednesday in his limited practice? He apparently got a round of golfer's applause, too, for his first career scout team snap.
He plays so effortlessly you forget he's a tough guy that's gutted through nine years of NFL battle. Clearly he had some damage in that ankle if it's taken this long because it looks like the Bengals must have had hopes he'd be back before this because they didn't put him on injured reserve and officially take him out of the first eight games.
"I don't disagree with your point," said Taylor before Wednesday's practice when asked about the severity of the injury. "It's been good, and he's been working every single week. Here we are in the eighth week, and we'll figure out where he's at in practice today.
"If someone tells me that there's any chance you'll get him for even a game before that eighth game, I think you're willing to take that with A.J. Green. It was an injury where there was no exact timeline. You try to be as vague as possible because you really don't know. At the same time, you're trying to give some helpful information to everybody."
And then there's the frustrating case of slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Last week he was terrific when he played an astounding 70 snaps in his first game back since last year's finale. It was a yeoman effort considering he had no spring, no training camp and just one week of practice as he rehabbed a knee issue.
But no good deed goes unpunished. He also played seven snaps of special teams and that's where he injured his hamstring late in the game. He was on the rehab field Wednesday and his status for Sunday is unclear.
WHIT AND ZAC: The split between Whitworth and the Bengals after the 2016 season was tough on both sides publicly and privately, but the first cut is the deepest. Once an all-time franchise great, always an all-time franchise great. He and Bengals management have been in touch since and he was a big supporter of its decision to hire Taylor.
"I had to be willing to leave, too," Whitworth said. "There's two sides to the story."
Really, Whitworth is still a Bengal in a lot of ways. Not on Sunday, he won't be, of course. But about ten minutes before the opener in Seattle, looking for a win over a division rival he texted to a Bengals employee, "Lets go!"
When he talks about Taylor's opening struggles, he thinks back to his college coach's career with the Dolphins.
"One of the best coaches of all-time, Nick Saban, struggled," Whitworth said. "He had a veteran team, so he won some games in Miami, but he struggled to have some success in his first two years. The reality is it's hard in the NFL. It takes time. It takes the right moments in guys' careers. When you're young and you add more young pieces, it's like dominos. A young guy's little mistake affects another guy. It's going to be a process.
"The tough thing about the league is you catch teams when maybe they're hot and you're not. We found that out over the last three weeks before we won here in Atlanta. It wasn't like we played horrific football. Nothing bounced our way, kept catching teams when they were playing their best. You take on that storm, too. You just have to weather the storm starting this regime off, hopefully they'll weather through it and be better for it. (Taylor) is a good coach, no question about it. I think he's a great guy, good coach, he'll try and find his way."
Another day to get better. Bengals practice in photos from Paul Brown Stadium preparing for a Week 8 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
MCVAY TAKE: Rams head coach Sean McVay, 33, has won 30 games before his 34th birthday and this is the only game of the season where the 36-year-old Taylor coaches against a younger guy. They're pretty close. On Wednesday McVay offered his support via conference call with the Cincinnati media.
McVay hired Taylor in L.A. in 2017 after Taylor's one-year run as the University of Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, first as the assistant wide receivers coach and then as his quarterbacks coach. He believes Taylor helped him build what he's got going for the defending NFC champs.
"I know Zac was an instrumental part of helping develop the culture we have tried to establish over the last couple years since we got here as a new staff," McVay said. "One of the reasons Zac and I got along so well was a love for football but more importantly a passion for people and treating people the right way. Working hard and working smart, but more importantly working together and staying connected through the good and through the bad. Demonstrating a lot of those things you hear him talk about whether it be your character, emphasizing the importance of communication both verbal and non-verbal, knowing it's always something special when you are a part of something bigger than yourself and being committed to that. I think those are the kind of things he'll continue to hammer home and establish."
McVay said among the things that lured him to Taylor when he got the Rams job was his work as the Dolphins' interim offensive coordinator in 2015.
"He's got a quiet confidence about himself with the way he carries himself, and he was a huge, valuable asset to our coaching staff. He is greatly missed right now. We miss him a lot," McVay said. "He epitomizes all those things that make a great leader. I think one of his best traits is he's so smart but he's so secure in himself and who he is and he doesn't try to be anybody else."
It's that commitment to culture (and you can see McVay's fingerprints all over the Bengals locker room stressing communication and connectivity) that McVay thinks is going to allow Taylor to turn it around.
"These are one of those situations that football presents a lot of great challenges," McVay said. "I think all of this time has really demonstrated is what makes Zac Taylor special. To stay consistent to be resilient and I have no doubt the future is really bright for the Bengals under his guidance and leadership. "
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