Vote of confidence

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Andrew James Whitworth Jr., or "Drew,' to his parents, is only three years old.

But he's old enough to know his big daddy goes away to work and that his work is something to do with other big daddies falling down over each other. He's not quite sure what it is, but he knows enough to ask his daddy every day when he comes home from work if he fell down.

Drew may be only three years old, but this past Saturday he could feel something emanating from the big man. A difference. Three-year-olds may not know what quiet tension is, but they can feel it. So when he went to sit on the stoop to watch him drive off like he does every Saturday home or away, this time Drew asked, "Daddy, are you going to go wrestle and tackle somebody?"

"Yeah boy, that's what I'm headed to do,' Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth told him and the kid said, satisfied, "OK, Daddy."

Daddy has had a heck of a year falling down. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, a Big Daddy himself from the '70s and '80s, says it is the best of what have been nine super superb seasons in Cincinnati. The web site profootballfocus.com rates him as the NFL's most efficient pass blocker, allowing no sacks and just one hit on the quarterback on more than 460 pass protections. It is a Pro Bowl year by any standard but this one, so no one is going to be surprised when the Pro Bowl team is announced and Whitworth isn't on it.

"He's just a steady guy. And unfortunately…he doesn't get the credit he deserves," said Eric Winston, the nine-year right tackle who arrived here two weeks ago. "He's as steady of a hand as there's been around the league. Another guy like him is Michael Roos (of the Titans). A guy that didn't get a lot of publicity, but he's had a lot of good games and blocked a lot of good players and been steady for whole seasons and multiple seasons like that. For whatever reason, the Pro Bowl's a popularity contest. It's the name. And if you get a couple all of a sudden you're just automatically a scratch-in a couple times, which is a shame. But Whitworth's as steady as it gets. He's definitely deserving."

The usual suspects are those top 12 draft pick guys like Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas, Trent Williams, Ryan Clady.

But one can always argue that Whitworth should go to more than the one Pro Bowl he attended at the end of the 2012 season.

Whitworth, who turned 33 last week, is now old enough to enjoy the other accolades, which he says he gets after every game now. Most of the Colts offensive line sought him out after the game over there to tell him how much they admired him and the Bucs defensive line coach told him he was the best in the business as they exited the field.

And then there is what his teammates think about him, a fitting topic this week as the Bengals prepare to play Peyton Manning's Broncos Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium  (8:30-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN), the man that Whitworth styled his leadership after when he spent his Pro Bowl watching Manning every day. Lapham says if you ask around the locker room who is the team leader, the consensus would be Whitworth.

"That kind of stuff to me takes more value than any Pro Bowl. I will remember that more than I would ever remember a Pro Bowl experience," Whitworth said. "So those are the kinds of things I take satisfaction, guys respecting you and the way you play the game. Over time, I've just learned that's more important to me than if you win a popularity contest."

 The Pro Bowl has turned into a kind of a party game. Kind of a funky cross between Family Feud and American Idol. Not only is it decided by a combination of votes by fans, players, and coaches, but the teams are now chosen school-yard style.

Whitworth has to laugh when he hears how other teams vote. He says the Bengals offense votes for defense and vice versa, but he says other teams just hand out the ballots and everybody is voting for everybody and he wonders how DBs can know which offensive linemen are the best.

"I know all the guys who will be on it," he said. "The usuals. It's fine. It's not a contest for me to get to the Pro Bowl. My job is to get my team to the playoffs and win a playoff game. I know if this thing was done off of film and tape I'd be in it."

The tape is showing that he's healthy again.  Compared to the last days of last season, Whitworth is a new man. He figures it's the first time in two and a half years that he's healthy. He battled his knee down to the end of '12 and had the procedure done a few days after his only Pro Bowl. Even though there were complications all last season, he played in 14 games and voluntarily moved to left guard for the final five after Clint Boling tore his ACL in a switch that showed how good a guard he could have been.

"He feels confident in his techniques, the things he couldn't do because of his legs," Lapham says. "He's got full range of motion now. He's healthy again and when he is, he's a powerful guy. People are always worried about his athleticism, but he's proven he can out there (at tackle). His football geometry is gifted. He knows how to study tape. It can be a waste of time if there's not a method to it. He's got his doctorate in film study.

"And his leadership ability is at a peak. That's tough when you're playing on one leg, but I think guys appreciated that he went out there and played and put the team above himself."

If head coach Marvin Lewis was asked in a weak moment to name his MVPs, he'd probably go with his de facto captains, Whitworth on offense, nose tackle Domata Peko on defense, because "they keep it going."

Whitworth saw Manning in full flower at the 2013 Pro Bowl. In the mornings he would be urging his team to play like you mean it while calling out players that had sat it out claiming injury. In the afternoon he would be by the pool, picking everybody's brain, from everything to what time of day they did install.

Whitworth says after that week he changed his approach to leadership.

"He's not afraid to push everybody, from coaches to players to staff. Everyone to his level," Whitworth said. "'Here's this level of excellence that is demanded of me, it's my job to go demand it from the rest of the group. By making the rest of the group feel like I will put my neck out on the line for them at any point.'

"It's about during the week saying, 'these guys don't like this adjustment, 'Hey Coach, they don't like this.' Or, 'Management, can we do this for the team?' Be that guy that you're invested in the entire process. Not just the quarterback position. That's something that stuck with me about Peyton."

Manning has a rep for grating on the nerves a bit because he is so demanding, but he can get away with it because everyone knows how dedicated he is to the team and putting everything else above it. Whitworth may have more tact, but he can get the same kind of results as a go-between with Lewis and his mates. And he's got a good, stop-by-the-office rapport with the Brown family.

For instance, Whitworth had a huge voice with the coaches when he made the move from left tackle to left guard back last December. Plus, he's always been a part of Lewis' leadership committee of veterans that meets with him weekly.

"He's selfless," Lewis said.

The week Whitworth spent with Manning was the week the Pro Bowl itself was in crisis. The NFL was talking about killing it because the level of intensity was horrendous. Manning challenged everyone to pick it up.

"He kind of called out the entire group and he called out the guys that weren't there," Whitworth said. "If you're not here because you truly don't have an injury, you just don't want to come out here, then you don't respect what this game is about and how special it is.

 "It was cool to hear him say that and address us that way. It's something that really stuck with me is how much this guy respects the game. If you just play this game to be good or bad at it, you don't get everything out of it. It made me have a new respect for, 'Every moment I have a chance to play this game, I want to push everyone around me to be as good at it as possible."

Even a three-year-old can feel it.

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