Bobbie Williams returned to work Monday morning and he sounded like a 23-year-old rookie instead of a 33-year-old veteran about to make his 106th NFL start on Opening Day and 95th for the Bengals in his seventh season in Cincinnati.
"There's no question in my mind that we're going to be better than we were last year," Williams said later Monday. "That's why I wanted to stay. I didn't take any visits. My family is here and I like the direction for now and the future. It's why I signed back in '06."
It is why as early as the day after last season ended he left with a bag of jerseys signed by his mates because he hoped to rejoin them. It is why Williams inked his two-year deal Monday, his third Bengals contract that should make him the longest-serving starting right guard in club history next to Max Montoya, the three-time Pro Bowler that started the 10 seasons of the '80s.
"I've met Max before and I really respect him," Williams said. "I've got a lot admiration for those guys that played back then. They were true gladiators."
That is how his young mates are looking at Williams these days. The only three Bengals games he has missed came from a 2006 appendectomy and he's working on a streak of 53 straight starts for an offense that reclaimed its place in the top 10 of NFL rushing with a franchise-record eight 100-yard games. When he signed in April 2006, the Bengals were coming off a division title and looked poised to become a perennial playoff team.
But they didn't get back until last year and it was done with a totally different team, one that relied on the run and defense. Williams is the only offensive lineman that played on both division champs.
"We just have to pray to stay healthy. We had some things after '06 that were out of our control," he said. "This isn't to say anything bad against the guys who were here last year and won't be here this year. I just feel like we're going to be a better team. We've got pretty much everybody back we had last year on offense and defense and we haven't even seen what we're going to get in the draft yet. The running game is already awesome and the passing game is going to be better. The key is to get more targets for Carson (Palmer) and with the acquisitions we've made, I think we've done that. You look at it, and last year in the playoffs we were only a play or two away from ending the first-round jinx."
When the 6-4, 345-pound Williams arrived from Philadelphia via free agency in 2004, he was supposed to be a stalwart on the run and slow afoot against the pass rush. He has developed into a fine pass protector (the '05 and '07 lines had two of the team's best sack numbers ever), but last year he also had to adjust to a new center in Kyle Cook and three different right tackles.
"I don't know how many sacks I gave up, but it was that number too many," Williams said. "You can always get better and I plan to. I really like playing with Cook. You give me a hard-nosed center who knows what he's doing and I'll take that all the time, and that's exactly what Kyle is. I want to work on getting out on the linebackers and shoring up protection."
The Bengals are not known for giving out extensions to centers and guards long in the tooth, but it shows that they highly regard Williams much like they did long-time center Rich Braham. Even Braham broke down, as did their two tackles that were relatively healthy until 2007, the second season of the extensions for tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones.
"It's not about age, it's about performance," Williams said. "I'm going to do what I've always done: Play hard and work at it and be an asset for this team and not a liability."
Williams thinks the team thinks the same.
"They brought me back," he said. "They could have taken my nameplate (off the locker), but they still had it and it was a new one, too. That's cool."
SWEET HOLMES NEW YORK: The numbers say the Bengals have to be pleased that they no longer have to deal with Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes twice a year after Pittsburgh traded him to the Jets this past weekend for a fifth-rounder.
Yes, they held him to one catch in last year's Paul Brown Stadium win. And the year before that safety Chris Crocker knocked him cold in Pittsburgh. But in eight games against the Bengals, Holmes averaged 16.8 yards per his 31 catches and his lone touchdown was a killer: The 67-yard-catch-and-run in his rookie year on the third snap of overtime that knocked the Bengals out of the 2006 playoffs in the season finale. Complete with his "O-H" in a PBS end zone.
In half of his games against the Bengals, Holmes caught at least 84 yards, and in last season's game in Pittsburgh he was the only guy that could get open enough to do damage. In the Bengals 18-12 victory, Holmes had seven catches for 88 yards and his 21-yarder was the only Ben Roethlisberger completion for 20 yards.
And, the Bengals may not have to play Holmes this year if the scuttlebutt is correct and they open the season on Monday night against the Jets. ProFootballTalk.com is reporting that Holmes faces an NFL suspension.
It remains to be seen if Roethlisberger gets suspended even though no sexual assault charges were filed in Georgia on Monday. It is the second time Roethlisberger has been accused, but no charges have been pressed.
In the spring of 2008, an assault charge against late Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was dropped, but he was still suspended for four games because he continually put himself in bad situations. If Roethlisberger doesn't get suspended, the NFL can argue it is not like the Henry case because no charges were filed.
It now looks like the NFL regular-season schedule is going to be released Wednesday or Thursday.
DHANI WAVE: Everybody talks about The Ocho, but Bengals middle linebacker Dhani Jones is having an offseason you can't even map.
He has returned from Mount Everest in one piece and it is no surprise that he isn't going to waste any time pushing the second season of Dhani Tackles The Globe on the Travel Channel. He lands in New York for a layover to Los Angeles on Monday while getting debriefed by PR guru Jerry Silbowitz of Size Sports & Entertainment, and he's hoping to get to L.A. in time to take advantage of two front-row seats to watch Chad Ochocinco on ABC's Dancing With The Stars.
Then on Tuesday he hits the Jim Rome Show on ESPN and Sports Soup on Versus. He'll also be at the first night of the draft next week in New York as a video correspondent for NFL.com