Posted: 8:20 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - If four-time Pro Bowler Willie Anderson was The Don of the offensive line and left tackle Levi Jones his lieutenant, then meet "The Boss Man" and "The Governor."
The Bengals' new look and inexperienced line took the field for the first time here Friday at Georgetown College in the Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth era and there looked to be no major snafus as they prepared for their debut in full pads on Sunday.
Rookie right end Michael Johnson did beat the left side of the line on a twist to pressure quarterback Carson Palmer but offensive line coach Paul Alexander observed, "We didn't have an assignment error. We didn't have a penalty. That's a good sign. It was all right for a first day. Guys weren't running free."
But in the same breath Alexander acknowledges that "we're going to mess up at times and we're going to have to keep going and keep plugging."
Such is life when your rookie right tackle isn't in camp, your left tackle has more starts at left guard, your left guard has only six more NFL starts than a center that has none.
But as Governor Whitworth, the left tackle, says, "I love the energy. We have a lot to prove and history shows that more often than not the team that has something to prove is more successful than a team that doesn't think it has a lot to prove."
Whitworth, for instance, is trying to prove that he's a top-flight left tackle after showing some Pro Bowl form last year at left guard. With 10 of his 12 starts there coming in his rookie year of 2006 when he nearly helped the Bengals into the playoffs, he's got a good start.
"Whit has played there. He knows the game and I think he's comfortable there," said former Bengals offensive lineman Larry Moore, working as an intern coach this week before heading back to coach the offensive line at Central State.
There aren't many remnants of that '06 line left. It was the group's last sniff of dominance even though center Rich Braham and left tackle Levi Jones missed most of the season. But there were the occasional days when Anderson blanked Pro Bowl sackers Julius Peppers and Derrick Burgess and the offense rolled up 545 yards against one of the most talented teams in the league in San Diego.
Whitworth and right guard Bobbie Williams with his 89 career starts are the only ones left. Moore was also there, unable to play with what would be a career-ending knee injury, and he sees some similarities, particularly with Braham and Kyle Cook at center.
"I think they're talented, but you want both talent and experience," Moore said before practice. "But the young guys understand the game a lot better. There is less explaining. They already know the answers to the trick questions."
Of course, back then, it was pretty easy.
"Richie answered all the questions; he basically told everybody what to do," Moore said. "Cook is a smart guy. He's picking up the offense pretty fast. He's a tough guy, strong kind of like Richie was."
The big question is, are they as athletic?
That will come out when the pads do, Moore says, but assistant offensive line coach Bob Surace is convinced "we've got guys that are well coordinated. We didn't have guys before that could run 4.9 (in the 40-yard dash) and jump 35 inches, but they're coordinated. Whit was an elite junior tennis player and golfer and AC (Anthony Collins) played both tackles in college."
Collins is a key figure this camp because he's the right tackle as long as No. 1 pick Andre Smith holds out and maybe even after depending on the length of he impasse. He drew good reviews after his first six NFL starts at left tackle last season and Whitworth says, "I'm proud of him because he's worked hard both on and off the field and he's really improved."
Collins has been texting Whitworth about certain plays and how to handle different blocking schemes. And Collins joined left guard Nate Livings and rookie tight end Chase Coffman for a week at Whitworth's camp for linemen in his hometown of West Monroe, La.
Alexander doesn't like to change combos and he wants to give the five starters most of the work, so Livings, a college free agent and his six NFL starts, is the guy now at left guard. The last time he played next to Whitworth, LSU won a national title.
"Nate may not have a lot of experience playing in the NFL," Alexander said. "But he's got seven, eight years playing next to Whit."
Whitworth's generosity to the younger players at the camp didn't go unnoticed.
"Great guy; a leader to look up to," said Coffman, who got a heavy dose of hand-on-the-ground work after a career he's hardly done it.
Whitworth calls Bobbie Williams "The Boss," the drill sarge who is there for every practice and game.
"And because he has 'Boss Man' tattooed on both forearms," Whitworth said. "I see myself more as a guy that likes to teach and help younger guys feel more comfortable."
Bobbie Williams is talking about keeping the hard-nosed, hard-try tradition of the Willie-Levi era alive and Whitworth is already calling on the tradition of Anthony Muñoz, the former left tackle and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Williams has spoken to Muñoz several times at Muñoz's camps and his charity golf tournament and it's been more about off-field commitment and character rather than football.
"But he came down to work with us at camp last year and I hope he does it again," Whitworth said. "I think he knows I've got talent and I've got the drive to succeed and those are two things you have to have to be successful."
Muñoz is always an attractive political possibility and has been active on the perimeter. Whitworth looks to be headed the same way. His foundation, which raised more than $125,000 in its first foray last month in West Monroe, is centered on rebuilding the nation's youth and institutions on character.
That's the message he brought to a Rotary Club Luncheon last month in Monroe before about 400 people in which he shared the marquee with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. One spoke in the morning, one spoke in the afternoon and Whitworth kidded Jindal, "More than half of them are here to see me, Governor."
A lot more than that will be at Paul Brown Stadium watching to see if Whitworth and Williams can get this thing figured out without getting Carson Palmer embalmed.
"I like the mixture of guys. I think a lot of times experience is over-exaggerated," Whitworth said. "We've got two guys that have played a lot of games and then young guys who are talented and hungry. I really think that's a big key.
"I guess the big difference is in '06 it was after the '05 season you were getting your horn tooted all the time. You're not as hungry and you think you're good and sometimes that's the problem. This line knows in order to be successful every day we have to just do more."
Dave Lapham, the former Bengals offensive lineman who is the club's radio analyst, is kind in his opening evaluation. He didn't see any major busts during the spring, "no one running free and then saying, 'Wow, again?' " but he also acknowledges they're missing one of the two most important things in life.
"They've got their health but they don't have experience," Lapham said. "They've got some good experience working together in the spring and they can get it here. But if they lose their health and their continuity, then you've got problems."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is already concerned with the release of injured rookie guard Colin Dow. He notes the Bengals now have as many backs as linemen (11).
"We've got to walk a line not to get them beat up but give them enough reps to get better," he said.
As for countering the inexperience he figures, "You limit the amount of things you do so they can get better through repetition."
Meanwhile, The Governor continues to work the crowd.
"We've got a close bunch of guys who are smart and have a lot to prove," Whitworth said. "I'll take it."