5-29-02, 6:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The name of Willie Anderson's Atlanta-based business is Think Big Inc.
It's also the calling card of this stage of his NFL career, which finds him as the seventh-year anchor at right tackle for an offense that has helped the Bengals acquire real estate with a dizzying diverse portfolio.
When Anderson broke in as the 10th pick in the 1996 draft, he was the protector of quarterback Jeff Blake's blindside when the Bengals franchised the NFL's best long ball to wide receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott.
In his later years, Anderson has overseen running back Corey Dillon's not-so-hostile takeover of the offense with the Bengals signing off on enough acreage to send Dillon to three Pro Bowls, two NFL records, and three of the best four rushing seasons in team history.
"So much has changed around here since '96," said Anderson this week as he reflected on his career during a visit with bengals.com on audio. "I can recall back in the day when people knew we didn't have a chance to match up physically with teams. But in the last couple of years, the Bengals, Mike Brown, the coaching staff, has done a great job bringing talent in here. Speed.
"If we had this defense back in the days Blake and Pickens were going to the Pro Bowl, we probably would have a had a couple of play-off type teams."
Anderson is thinking big about this shot at his first winning season in the league as well as his expanding empire. This past offseason, Anderson was awarded the first 10 Fat Burger stores in the Atlanta area as the upscale West Coast hamburger chain looks to expand east. His company has also purchased the region of Ohio, Alabama and Georgia for what he hopes is a new wave of sports apparel.
"Imagine a jacket or a shirt with a
Bengals' logo on it," Anderson said. "They stitch fiber optic lights into the design on the jacket, shirt, or hat and it lights up like a billboard. . . You can have whatever design you want. A Corey Dillon logo, a Takeo Spikes logo, a Bengals' logo, a UC logo, a Cleveland Browns' logo. . .It's great advertising for companies."
But there is still a career to be played. Anderson, entering the second season of a six-year deal, is keeping the company small (about five employees). Partly because he can't yet bear to have someone else write the checks.
"When I was younger, I worried more about seeing my name in magazines and seeing my name say, 'Pro Bowl," said Anderson, who was named an alternate this past season. "I still want to be one of the best in the league. I want to be the best right tackle in the league. That's still my goal. As long as people keep telling me, 'Man you're good,' like after the Tennessee game and different games this season, just telling me, 'Hey, you got snubbed this year for the Pro Bowl,' that makes me feel good at some point."
Anderson, who turns 27 in July, shows no signs of relinquishing his role as the team's quotemaster. This week, he may have even christened his linemates with a nickname: "The Secret Service."
They're coming off a season worthy of presidential protection, allowing just 28 sacks, the fifth fewest in the NFL last year and fourth fewest in club history.
Other audio bits: **
On where the offense is during the last week of voluntary workouts:**
"The team really didn't know where the leadership of the quarterback was going to come from (in last year's minicamp). You can call me the offensive captain all you want. I can do the dirty stuff, but as far as on the field general stuff, that comes from the quarterback. I think it's better this year. (Jon Kitna) has a better grasp of the whole thing." **
On a quarterback competition in general and the Kitna-Gus Frerotte matchup specifically:**
"Changes up kind of really hurt us (last year). In the beginning, it was cool. We had the 4-3 stretch, but in the second half of the season when people started really playing football, I think it hurts you a little bit not knowing that this guy is going to be the No. 1 guy all the way through. . . .Gus has a strong arm and it's going to be a competition, but I think we have two good guys and their styles are somewhat similar.
"Gus and Kitna have the same kind of style. Gus can run. We play basketball every Thursday and we know that Kitna is athletic. Sometimes it's great to have guys that can run. I think the big thing is guys who can move a little bit. Kitna and Gus have the ability to move. . .They're not big stiff guys. If they have to, they can take off and run.
On the double-barreled anonymity of being an offensive lineman on a team that has never had a winning season:
"The entire line has done a good job. We don't get enough credit because we're losing. but I think (it says something about) the five guys up front and the tight ends and the fullbacks and the offensive line coach. I put Paul (Alexander) in there, too. Week in and week out we've faced eight- and nine-man lines the last three years because our passing game hasn't been up to par, and for us to put Corey Dillon in the Pro Bowl, and keep breaking records that he does. . . ."
On the best way to break in No. 1 pick Levi Jones at left tackle:
"The big thing for him is to get to training camp on time and get that experience of playing the four pre-season games.
"One of the big things they did for me my rookie year was put in an offense called, 'Big Hawk, Big Willie.' . . .They put in plays for me. . .For the first six games, I played about 30 snaps a game, put in as a tight end or two tackles on the same side. They came up with creative ways to put me on the field to get me in action so I wouldn't just be sitting for six games.
"To play offensive line in the NFL, you have to be a smart guy. You have to get guys that can pick stuff up on the run and make adjustments. I call that being the Secret Service. You've got to be able to go on the drop of a dime, and be able to protect your president at any cost, and I think that's what good offensive lineman are made of. I think Levi is showing that right now."