Shift in core

Posted: 6 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Last year it was 23-year-old Robert Geathers. Last month it was 23-year-old Domata Peko. Last week it was 26-year-old Andrew Whitworth.

And soon it should be 22-year-old Keith Rivers.

Listen closely.

That's the sound of the Bengals' core quietly shifting to a new generation.

Not a seismic eruption as Georgetown College stood stolidly Sunday for the Bengals' 12th report date. Only Willie Anderson was here to see the first one in 1997, when Rivers was 11 years old.

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Whitworth

But underneath the jokes about Whitworth now having to buy a few meals from offensive linemates Bobbie Williams and Levi Jones, you could sense a few tremors after the Bengals extended Whitworth well before his deal ended in 2009.

They did the same for Peko, here until his 30th birthday.

"Awesome, awesome. You can't get a better guy than Whit," said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer before he unpacked. "It blows a lot of guys' minds. How did he end up going in the second round? He looks like a first-rounder on tape. ... He's the type of guy you build an offensive line around."

And more.

Guys like Peko and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, Whitworth's '06 draftmates, along with cornerback Leon Hall and Chinedum Ndukwe from last year's class, have flashed the sort of locker-room intangibles coaches love.

"Good character guys," Palmer said. "Guys that work hard. Guys that take their jobs extremely, extremely to heart. They want to work, they want to be great. They want to be on winning teams. These are guys you want to build an organization around and that's what they're doing here."

Whitworth has 28 starts in two seasons, 16 at left tackle and 12 at left guard, which is where he lines up this season. He's massive (340 pounds), athletic (a junior tennis champion who allowed just one sack as a left tackle during his last two seasons in the speedy SEC) and committed (a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes).

"In the last couple of years we've been getting guys that don't mind leading on and off the field," said Whitworth, who signed the deal before heading to his dorm room. "That's important and it's going to help us out in the future. They told me they wanted me around to be an example and when they made that statement to me, I let them know I wanted to be here and make a difference in Cincinnati in the offseason, in the season, whenever."

No question the Bengals' recent drafts have taken a pummeling. Just look at the second-round picks that sandwiched Whitworth in 2005 and 2007. Odell Thurman and Kenny Irons have been cut, Thurman because of behavior that iced him for two years with NFL suspensions and the other because of a devastating knee injury that would sideline Irons for two years if he returns here via waivers Monday.

But Whitworth, who hauls down about $30 million in new money for a deal that keeps him here through 2013, also sees some other guys.

"I definitely think there is a lot of young talent on this team. There are lot good players that are going to be even better than they are playing at this point," Whitworth said. "There's a lot of potential, and it's one of the reasons I wanted to be here longer."

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Jones

You have to put left tackle Levi Jones in that group, too. Yes, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since he signed his extension nearly two years to the day. Since then, he suffered another knee injury and he was so upset at the way it was handled that he asked for a trade during this past offseason.

But he has always said he'll give it his best if he's here and no one can doubt it because even though he struggled physically last year, he was voted a Pro Bowl alternate.

Jones, still a young man who turns 29 next month, arrived Sunday as another young leader who is tough, plays hurt, and protects the passer.

(Remember, he has been the left tackle when the Bengals set franchise records for allowing the fewest sacks in two of the past three seasons.)

Jones is refreshed, saying it's the best he's felt physically as an NFL player. And he can't say enough about his partner on the left side.

"That's just the kind of guy you want to get early," Jones said. "He's smart and versatile. They've signed a number of guys that have outstanding character, outstanding leadership. I haven't spent a lot time around Rivers, but hopefully he can fill the void left by Takeo (Spikes). If he can do that, that would be tremendous. We definitely need that. We've got some solid players with solid characters. It's a good young core."

Whitworth and right guard Bobbie Williams have been valuable in helping Eric Ghiaciuc with the calls at the center position, and they form a bright interior for Palmer. Williams is smart enough that he's the emergency center.

"You have to be (smart) nowadays. If not, you're going to get the (QB) killed and I don't want that on my resume," Williams said. "They know what they're doing. Wrap them up when they're young.

"(Whitworth) is what you need. He's big and he plays multiple positions. He's smart. IQ-wise and football-wise. If you take your time to break it down on the offensive planning, he has a good grasp of what the offense is."

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