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O-line finds finishing touch

Posted: 7:30 a.m.



GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Marvin Lewis has put it in orange and blazed it across the back of the black T-shirts he issued at training camp.

But his offensive linemen put it in their hearts, not to mention their offseason regimen, long before this when they showed up looking like something out of Extreme Makovers.

"We met as a group right after the season and we listed the things we wanted to get better," Andrew Whitworth said. "Run the ball more effectively and we can never give Carson (Palmer) enough time. That's our job. To be as fit and ready to play as possible and not tire out in games."

The front of Lewis' shirt sports a triangle with the words, "Mature," "Courageous," and "Team Player." The offensive line already houses the 12-year blue-collar inspiration of Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, but after getting an eyeful of guys like Whitworth, Stacy Andrews and Scott Kooistra, strength coaches Chip Morton and Ray Oliver sense that it is the entire line that has taken a thing called ownership.

"Outstanding group," Morton said. "Look at them all. People talk about big offensive lines around the league, but these guys are not only big, but fit and lean."

He points to the 6-7 guards who are more gated communities than bookends. Whitworth, the second-year LSU product and former junior golf and tennis champion, arrived at 338 pounds with 11 percent body fat. Stacy Andrews, the fourth-year former track star and lifeguard, checked in about the same with his lightest weight as a Bengal.

Even the usually guarded Lewis allowed after Sunday's practice, "They're as big and strong and as formidable group as probably anywhere."

"I've seen 340-pound guys and they're not like these 340-pound guys," said defensive line coach Jay Hayes, a former pro defensive end. "These guys are fit and they can move. No question this is a top group. We're a little bigger in there with Whit and Stacy and without Levi (Jones), but those guys are athletes. And no one is more of an athlete than Levi."

Whitworth and Andrews are why no one is jumping off the "Georgetown" tower in a camp without Jones and Eric Steinbach, the left tackle-guard tandem that formed a big part of Palmer's 2005 success. Jones has yet to be cleared with a bothersome knee, although he's expected to play in preseason games, and Steinbach is in Cleveland.

No doubt a healthy Jones puts the Bengals O-line in an another elite category. But until then, Whitworth is at left tackle after an offseason of hot yoga and blistering forehands, and Andrews is at left guard after a summer of running 110-yard sprints.



And if they did jump off the tower, Andrews can save them. As the world's largest lifeguard for three seasons at a community pool in his hometown of Camden, Ark., he once leaped in to save a brother and sister at the same time.

"And I still had my shoes on," Andrews said.

As Morton walks around campus these days, he'll stop and admire some of these guys and makes sure they're recognized.

"One of our young guys, one of our leaders in the weight room. One of our stars of the weigh-in," said Morton as he gazed at Whitworth. "More than one person has said, 'I wish they could be all like that.' But the whole group has been like that. Very impressive."

Whitworth already has 10 starts at left tackle as a rookie and drew enough raves that he'd be a starter on most teams that don't have a Jones. But now that he's played so much left tackle, could he have practiced himself out of the left guard derby to replace Steinbach because Andrews has received all the snaps there this spring and summer?

"That's something that could happen, but all I can do is make it as hard a decision as possible not to keep me on the bench," Whitworth said. "I've just got to work and try to open people's eyes and make them realize I deserve to be on the field."

Whitworth isn't worried about moving back and forth from tackle to guard because he practiced a lot at guard last season (and made two starts) and he subscribes to the belief, "If you can play left tackle, you can play left guard."

Whitworth moved back into his parents' home in West Monroe, La., for the last month of the offseason, and ended up working out two or three times day and eating right enough to slice the body fat from 19 percent to 11.

He started up his hot yoga routine that he began with LSU teammate Bennie Brazell on Mondays after last season, where he would stretch to get flexible in a 100-degree room. He also migrated back to the Monroe Athletic Club, where he had some glory days as a statewide tennis star from the ages of 8-13.

"I've still got it," Whitworth said. "I played a little 16-year-old kid and he was surprised I still had my tennis skills."

While wondering what that sight must have been as Whitworth rushed to the net against the kid, think about what Andrews and 340-pound brother Shawn of the Eagles looked like running 110-yard sprints on the track at Little Rock's Hall High School the past month.

"We'd run the straightaways and jog the curves," Stacy Andrews said. "The main thing was come back in shape, come back as a team, focused: Finish. Finish. Finish."

When the line met as a group after that last game with coaches Paul Alexander and Bob Surace, the idea was not only conditioning, but unity in order to enhance communication.

"So once the offseason started," Whitworth said, "we made sure we worked out together as a group."

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has noticed, too, after a season he had to juggle with the injuries to Jones and center Rich Braham.

"Now that Whit and Stacy got so many snaps last year, we're not behind," he said. "We're actually ahead."

Which is why no one is jumping.

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