Andrew Whitworth at his second Pro Bowl. .
KAHUKU, HI _ The peers that gravitate to him in all his giant Whit-ness this week at the Pro Bowl are rejuvenating Andrew Whitworth.
"A renewed spirit,' is what he calls it.
His clock is still ticking quite loudly. On Thursday morning before the first Pro Bowl practice that is really a sleep-over instead of a walk-through, the Bengals franchise left tackle went into the gym at the Turtle Bay resort to lift and work on his legs. Maybe because he thinks the Bengals very well still could be playing if they simply could have run out the clock.
That's what guys like Seattle's voluble defensive lineman Michael Bennett are telling him over here this week.
"It's hard to watch some of (the postseason)," said Whitworth, waiting Friday's marching orders from the former Miss Louisiana who has given him four children no older than four.
"If we were healthy with Andy (Dalton), we're as good as anybody playing football right now. Andy Dalton did a great job for us. He was great. But he's not at the level of Andy Dalton. Andy wasn't at that level when he was that young. The reality is Andy was one of the best players in football. With him at the helm, I just see us as a team that can compete with anybody. I've had a couple of guys come up to me and say that."
Like Bennett, the guy who went on NFL Network last year and basically said Dalton is the kind of guy that gives big games away in the clutch. But this week he told Whitworth, "Man, what an amazing year Andy was having," and how sick he was when Dalton went down.
"He earned that guy's respect," said Whitworth as he looks forward to Dalton helping jump-start the Bengals back into it in a few months.
And there are guys like Marshal Yanda, the Ravens right guard in his fifth Pro Bowl, rejuvenating Whitworth. Before the Bengals' last regular-season game of the year against Baltimore earlier this month, it had been Yanda that greeted him with "God, it's about time." It was like he had made the Pro Bowl himself.
"Everybody understands the player he's been in this league. Just to get to know him has been awesome," said Yanda after Friday's practice in the run-up to Sunday's game (7 p.m.-ESPN) at Aloha Stadium.
"He's been a cornerstone for a player in this league. He's been a consistent player his entire career and been a great player. I've got a lot of respect for him. All the Ravens have a lot of respect for him because we've played against him and understand he's been there for a long time and been consistent. That's hard to do."
Peyton Manning told Bill Belichick Super Bowl 50 might be his last rodeo. For the longest time after he signed a year extension last season, Whitworth thought 2016 would be his last ride. But after listening to the guys this week, he's keeping his options open and making no decisions while up on the saddle.
That's what he and Browns left tackle Joe Thomas were talking about a few days ago.
How long to play?
Take in the sights of the Pro Bowl including the Draft and the first practice.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Stewart/NFL
It's hard to believe, but the Lock Out Twins, Sarah and Michael, are going to be five in February. The other time he was here, there were only three kids and they weren't big enough to do anything.
But this week they have done enough to become what he calls "zombies," they are so tired. With the help of Miss Louisiana and the ringmaster-nanny Krista Howard, what they call the circus has ripped through Hawaii's North Shore, getting thrown in the pool, romping on the beach, screeching down slides.
"As long as we don't get them near any sharks, they're OK," said Whitworth with a wistful smile.
Daddy is still swimming with the sharks.
Whitworth turned 34 last month. In this Pro Bowl only safety Charles Woodson (39), kicker Josh Brown (36), defensive end Julius Peppers (36), and quarterback Eli Manning (35) are older. Kids like Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith and 31-year-old vets like Thomas are part of a group of linemen telling him they watch him on tape.
"With the recognition this year, it helps give you confidence to go after it," Whitworth said. "I told (Thomas) I still like playing. I've already started training, so I like that. And the reality is where offensive line play is right now, I don't see that many people out there that I'm worried that can do it better than I can."
Whitworth could see himself coaching in the NFL. But not right now.
And not only that, he says, what else is he going to do? He kind of realized that a bit when Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, a guest of Whitworth this week, came out of the stands Friday morning to chat during the practice.
"Such a great player," Alexander said. "I watched his technique and it was flawless even after not playing in a few weeks. It's ingrained deep in his bones."
Whitworth could see himself going to a future Pro Bowl as the guest of one of his lineman one day.
"Maybe I'll play right up until someone offers me a head offensive line job," said Whitworth, who is really not kidding. "I'm not going to start a business. Start up this, start up that. I love football. I want to learn more about it. I want to stay in it. Coach or maybe train guys. I've thought about maybe being an agent. I don't know what. All I know is I want to stay in it."
Whitworth has also talked to vets like Thomas and 49ers' long-time left tackle Joe Staley and realized they keep the same kind of in-season practice regiment he does, reinforcing that he's got the right plan.
"Sometimes you get in a rut and you're taking off days here and there and you think you're the only guy doing it," Whitworth said. "Then you realize when you come here and I haven't talked to a guy that doesn't do the same thing."
Thomas and Browns center Alex Mack have also invigorated Whitworth. While he has spent the week telling them how good of a head coach Hue Jackson is going to be, he has realized how famished they've been in Cleveland compared to how successful the Bengals have been. With six of his teammates on the Island with him, the differences are jarring.
"Go talk to Alex Mack and Joe Thomas and they'd take five straight playoffs in a heartbeat," Whitworth said. "We've got a very good team. Obviously with all the guys here and the first alternates, the players think so too."
Which is why the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh still "burns and hurts." Before a fumble in the last 90 seconds, "There was a small moment where we felt we had done it and that hurts. But we've never been that close."
The ensuing narrative of how the out-of-control Bengals blew another big one to the swaggering Steelers doesn't bother Whitworth as much as how close it came to being re-written.
"I just think its funny," Whitworth said. "You look at those un-normal, freakish circumstances that were unbelievable and it's the complete opposite. The narrative is flipped. Now the story is how the Steelers couldn't hold the lead and how Ben (Roethlisberger) got hurt again and how they couldn't keep him healthy and they're looking back at things they did that were dirty. The reality is Pittsburgh kept playing and if you keep playing they keep talking about you in a good way."
He has no doubt that cornerback Adam Jones and WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the focal points of the Pittsburgh comeback, will bounce back next season. When Jones arrived at the Pro Bowl this week he wrapped Jones in a bear hug because he knew how hard he worked to get here.
Whitworth knows Burfict has to find a middle way, but he also knows this:
"Vontaze is an exceptional player. People get caught up in the same narrative. People remember what they want to remember about you. But we go down the list of Hall of Fame defensive players who were nasty and played the game on the border-line edge of physicalness and nastiness, that's a long list. If we're winning the Super Bowl and going to the Super Bowl, people are talking about Vontaze Burfict as one of the best linebackers in the game and what a difference he makes to a defense. When you lose, it's a different narrative."
But The Captain remains upbeat. They've won 52 games during the last five years because they've exorcised the demons of the previous season enough that they've been back in position for another shot.
"Every year we've buried the season before. We can do it again," Whitworth said.
For the moment though, he and Miss Louisiana and the nanny-ringmaster are trying to keep the circus intact before they pull up the tents after the Pro Bowl.
"They get a little freaked out about the sharks," Whitworth said.
Daddy, though, is ready to swim with them again.