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Pass pro gets a lift

Andrew Whitworth

The Eagles came to town last Friday and Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth knew what that meant.

Blitzes from everywhere. And not only that, he was facing his nemesis from the '08 regular season, 11-sack man Trent Cole.

But Whitworth and offensive line coach Paul Alexander were pleased with the way the Bengals protected quarterback Carson Palmer against Philadelphia's batch of pressures. He wasn't sacked and the one time Palmer took a good shot, it looked like Cole sped past rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham on a botched screen.

If it's been said once by the pundits, it's been said a thousand times by people in the know: The Bengals will only be as good as their pass protection. 

Alexander was moved to say, "I know this: I feel a lot better now than I did a year ago at this time."

Whitworth felt even better after watching Brett Favre's 500th comeback game Sunday night.

"Very encouraging for this time of year to face blitzers like that," Whitworth said before Monday's practice. "I think you saw that in the Minnesota-San Francisco game and it's one of the reasons they pulled Brett immediately. San Francisco started bringing some blitzes. Just not the line, but the backs, the tight ends, it's preseason and you don't know if people are going to pick it up.

"But to go in there and play and leave Carson in for a whole half and know even if they bring it we have the faith to pick it up, that's a positive thing for a team to feel that confident this early."

You don't have to go back very far when it wasn't. You, remember, right? The Bengals look paralyzed trying to protect Palmer against the Saints in the third preseason game of the year and old friend Kevin Kaesviharn ended up breaking his nose on a safety blitz.

Now heading into the fourth preseason game of the year in Buffalo on Saturday (Cincinnati's Channel 12 at 6:30 p.m.), there have been no such man-made disasters. It has looked rocky at times, but Alexander senses his line is getting it together off the Philadelphia tape.

"Nobody touched the quarterback and that's a team that can rush the quarterback," Alexander said. "He had as much time as he wanted and they were bringing it. They run a complicated scheme and there weren't any mental errors."

Whitworth remembers the Sack of New Orleans well.

"They're pressuring from everywhere. One guy looks the wrong way in a moment and you don't see the guy coming, the quarterback gets crushed," Whitworth said. "To keep the quarterback upright against a team that plays that aggressive, yeah, you feel good about it. But the preseason is all about getting better and better. And this week is the same thing."

But Whitworth might not be involved against the Bills. He hasn't worked the last two days and Sunday he had his thumb taped. The problem is, his backup, Anthony Collins, hasn't worked since he hurt his foot last week. The Bengals certainly wouldn't entrust Palmer's blind side to rookie free agents Gabriel Manns and Isaac Sowells.

But then again, the Bills aren't the Eagles. That was a reason the Bengals needed to look good against Philly because it was probably their last protection test before Sept. 12. The Bills lost their top sacker, Aaron Schobel, to retirement and need to get something out of 2009 No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin. Maybin had no sacks as a rookie and lines up this season on passing downs on the offense's left outside.   

If Whitworth can't go, the Bengals may have to think about moving starting right tackle Dennis Roland, a sobering prospect since at 6-9, 350 pounds, he doesn't exactly have the quick athleticism usually associated with that spot. But maybe not as alarming as it was last year. Alexander continues to rave about Roland's progress and he thinks the proof is how he worked at left tackle in the third quarter Friday night.

"He's a lot better than last year and that showed it," Alexander said. "Because last year he really struggled playing left tackle in the preseason. But this year he did a wonderful job. Something happened last year in September. The light bulb kind of turned on and all of a sudden he started doing everything just right and he's gotten better from there."

Roland is one of the feel-good stories from last year's feel-good team. He was one of those guys tossed away who found a home. Five times, to be exact. Since signing as a free agent out of Georgia with the Cowboys in '06, he had been cut five times until he made 12 starts last season and showed up more often than not as an extra tight end.

These days Alexander isn't talking much about Andre Smith, the No. 1 pick from 2009 who just returned to the field last week after more than seven months of rehabbing a broken foot and grappling with conditioning issues.

But he'll talk Roland all day long.

"Roland's pretty good; he's a joy," Alexander said. "Every single thing you tell him, from the smallest detail, he can do. It's unbelievable."

Roland is a technician, a coach's son, and he's the way you would think he would be. Quiet. He says "yes sir" and "no sir," even to reporters. Maybin's first quick step may not be the greatest matchup for him, but he'd try to find an angle to make it tough.

"I knew I had to come in and show improvement from last year," Roland said. "I'm feeling more confident in my play. Going out there knowing I've played, knowing I can do it and I need to go out there and do it again."

Left tackle isn't foreign territory for Roland. At Georgia they flipped sides according to the play and "I remember some of the things from those days," he said.

He also remembers quite a few things his father used to tell him. Dennis Roland Sr., a high school and college football coach, died of cancer a few years ago. But his son can be seen once in a while wearing T-shirts some of his father's teams wore. Roland never had him as a coach in high school, but he can remember the sayings on some of the shirts even if he doesn't have one.

"There was one shirt I can always remember, I don't know why," Roland said. "It said, 'Count On Me.' Every player on his team had one."

Not a bad motto in a year the Bengals are counting on protecting Palmer.

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