PHOENIX, Ariz. _ The fate of two Bengals in the finals of the Pro Football Hall of Fame balloting is revealed with the 2023 class Thursday night here during Super Bowl week's red-carpet NFL Honors and the best right tackle of this time is rooting for the best right tackle of his time.
Willie Anderson, a mentor of Eagles Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, is up for Canton, as is the late Ken Riley, the cerebral cornerback who was a mentor to so many on the Bengals' first great teams. On Wednesday during the Eagles' media session as they prepped for the Chiefs in Sunday's Andy Reid Championship, Johnson recalled how five years ago he asked Anderson to come to Oklahoma City and work with him for a couple of days.
"I was just asking questions. I knew the kind of player he was and I just sat there and listened to him," Johnson said. "I really had a good time. I learned a lot. He's a good person and I'm pulling for him for the Hall of Fame."
Anderson, the only right tackle to make three straight All-Pro first teams since the 1970s, is in the modern era finals for a second time as he bids to become the first right tackle to be enshrined in Canton in two decades. Riley, who died at 72 in 2020, is one of three senior nominees in a category who last played more than 25 years ago. When Riley retired after 15 seasons in 1983, he was the fourth most prolific interceptor of all-time with 65.
Johnson and everyone else finds out if their guy made it in an honors show (9 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) that could put a Bengal in the Hall on the 25th anniversary of franchise left tackle Anthony Munoz's first-ballot induction. Munoz was another guy that Johnson has researched in a career that began when the Eagles took him with the fourth pick in the 2013 draft.
"I like watching clips of guys. I've been trying to watch Anthony Munoz, Walter Jones," Johnson said of two Hall of Fame left tackles. "(Anderson) was the right tackle of his generation and what he was able to do against some of the most elite pass rushers in the league and the games he was able to have against them."
Johnson hasn't given up a sack since late in the 2020 season in what is being called the longest snap sackless streak in the Pro Football Focus era that dates to 2006. That conjures up Anderson's dominant shutout streak from 1999-01 at the turn of a century that had no such analytics. But even 20 years later Johnson is facing some of that same lack of love for right tackles and bias for left tackles that Anderson faced. Anderson didn't make All-Pro first team or the Pro Bowl that year and last year Johnson didn't make All-Pro first team or the Pro Bowl.
But Johnson, who channeled Anderson a few years ago when he said he sought 'validation," for right tackles, senses a shift because right tackles like Tristan Wirfs and Brian O'Neill did.
"I think it's starting to change," Johnson said. "It's the demands of the NFL. They're starting to switch the sides of pass rushers. T.J. Watt is over (the right tackle). Nick (Bosa) moves around. Khalil Mack does that. It's more of a game plan issue now."
Still, Johnson is stoning sack aces like Micah Parson (think Willie vs. Kevin Greene or other Hall-of-Famers like Willie vs. Michael Strahan or Willie vs. Reggie White) and he's only been to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro first teams. Anderson thinks he should be a perennial first-teamer.
"He's on his second Super Bowl team and going for his second ring and he's been a stalwart," Anderson said. "He's one of these typical offensive lineman who started out playing a different position. He was a freaking quarterback. So everything he's done, he's done it on his own. He's put in all this extra work … He's been a great ambassador for right tackles."
Some of that work has been with Anderson, who runs the Willie Anderson Offensive Line Academy that caters to high school and college players as well as the pros. Literally, their hands are on the same page.
"When you work with great players, you just give them ideas. They can figure it out," Anderson said. "He likes the techniques I teach. I'm not saying I taught him those techniques. But when NFL coaches ask me what I'm teaching, I tell them that I stopped playing in 2008 and Lane Johnson, Pro Bowl right tackle, uses the same techniques I'm teaching.
"He's a master technician with his hands. Lane has an extremely fast set. He beats his guy to his spot. And the reason guys can't beat him is he confuses them with what he does with his hands. There are guys that put everything into being the best and that's what Lane does."
Anderson also swapped some technique with Johnson when he spoke at last year's Offensive Line Mastermind Summit, a pro camp Johnson runs with Duke Mayweather annually in Texas.
"(Anderson) is really big on stance," Johnson said. "Not giving away stuff is a big one. Foot movement, what the defender's stance is. He's a very technical person. Now he teaches guys and you can tell he loves what he's doing and he developing great talent."
In a week of Super Bowls and Hall of Fames, it had all the right stuff.