MOBILE, Ala. - With the arrival of Andrew Whitworth on Wednesday, the Senior Bowl just may have offered a glimpse of some of the tweaks that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski believes is "probably" going to result in the biggest overhaul of the playbook in his nine seasons with the club.
Whitworth, scheduled to marry a former Miss Louisiana on March 14, is all for change "if it means we execute better and it helps us win," he said, and the Bengals can wed what he sees as their strengths of defense, the running game, and the return of Carson Palmer.
"It's great to see the passion and the hunger these kids have to make it in the NFL," said Whitworth. "You lose that after a few years. It was great to see."
Whitworth has embraced playing guard and he's coming off a season he played Pro Bowlers Albert Haynesworth and Jason Tuck to a stalemate and frustrated Jacksonville titan John Henderson into a WWF ejection.
But he's always considered himself a tackle and he just may get the chance in two of the options.
With Stacy Andrews looking at potentially missing the first six weeks of the regular season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, Whitworth could move over to right tackle. If the Bengals decide to go defense in the first round and not select a left tackle and they decide to part ways with Levi Jones, they could move Anthony Collins from left tackle to right tackle, where he played some in college.
"I may end up playing wide receiver, strong safety, you name it," Whitworth said and Bratkowski said, "I don't doubt we can put him on both the right and the left side and he's got enough football ability and football awareness that he can probably play center in an emergency."
Bratkowski knows the offense is in emergency mode after finishing last in the NFL for the first time in franchise history and he was in the middle of an ambulance run on Monday when The Baltimore Sun speculated Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was wooing Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson to replace him as coordinator.
Bratkowski has had no comment this week on the report, perhaps figuring his very arrival Sunday with the team instead of with a resume pointed to his return to the staff. The South coach, Jack Del Rio, is working the game even though he let go some coaches before this week and is trying to find replacements for Jacksonville's staff as the week unfolds.
What Bratkowski could say is that the club is already working on some changes in the North practice.
"There are a few small things you can do," he said. "Not a lot of things, but we're looking at a few things. Some different schemes in both the run game and pass game and other issues. Taking a look at them, evaluating them, coaching them."
Coaches are always hesitant to get specific and this is a particularly sensitive topic because the Bengals don't want to tip their hand to a division that houses the NFL's two best defenses.
(The stat of the year has to be 17 three-and-outs in two games against the Ravens this season.)
He is thankful he's got the versatile Whitworth because it gives the team some flexibility at the top of the draft.
Although, the last time the Bengals took a left tackle in the first round, it worked well when they took Levi Jones with the 10th pick in 2002. But he has been hobbled by a spate of knee and leg injuries since he approached Pro Bowl form in 2005.
Like Whitworth (high ankle sprain), Jones missed the last six games of the season but cutting him could be even more hurtful. With no salary cap in 2010, teams must absorb all prorated bonuses into the '09 cap, which means Jones would count about $5 million by the time his $8.4 million proration is subtracted from his $3.5 million salary.
Even though the 6-7, 340-pound Whitworth played 52 games at left tackle for LSU, he has always heard the whispers he can't stand up to the speed rushers. He vehemently disagrees.
"I go back to my rookie year when we were 8-5 and if we win one of the last three games we're in the playoffs," said Whitworth of the '06 season he replaced the injured Jones early. "What? I played (10) games at left tackle and gave up four sacks? Figuring it was my rookie year, I thought that was a pretty solid season in the NFL. Especially in our offense where we're dropping back to pass at all times. I have confidence to be able to play this game. I don't care where I am, as long as we can win and I can be a leader."
Whitworth emerged as a full-fledged leader the day before the 0-8 Bengals played the Jaguars and he gathered the team after the walkthrough and talked to them about not getting pushed around and asserting themselves physically.
He punctuated it with his flurry of punches after Henderson tried to gouge his eye out and although both got ejected and fined, it was priceless for him in the locker room.
(By the way, he is still appealing the $10,000 fine to the NFL and says he thinks the league hopes he forgets it as long as officials ignore it "but we won't.")
Whitworth thinks running the ball and being physical is one of the team's strengths going into the season.
"If we change for the better and be successful by tooling our different strength, that's great," Whitworth said. "The defense played better and better as the season went on, so the defense is definitely a strength. We learned to run the ball at the end of the year. That's a strength. And with a healthy Carson Palmer being able to throw the ball along with the running game is a plus.
"You look at some of the things that happened this year. We lost our fullback before the season who's a big part of our offense. Not having a tailback for sure in the middle of the season and then getting a guy who hadn't even been here, and with your backup quarterback everyone knows you're going to try and run the ball at the end of the year, and we still ran it well. I think you have to say we grew as a team up front. Running the ball well down the stretch and I think that's going to be a strength."
Whitworth said he thinks his teammates will welcome back the offensive coaches even though the offense has had trouble scoring points since that three-game losing streak that ended the 2006 season.
"I think our guys are going to respond well," he said. "It's comfort ability. The key is if we're making changes and doing what we think is going to be successful together. We already believe in these coaches because we have had success before with them."
Maybe Whitworth has some empathy because he could be headed to the coaching ranks. On Wednesday, offensive line coach Paul Alexander and assistant Bob Surace let him have free reign and he was clearly at home with the tackles in the pass-rush drills.
"These guys are used to seeing guys with just one move," Whitworth said, "but they're going to see lot more than that and you have to know how to attack them."
He spent a lot of time with Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt and Connecticut's William Beatty. The 6-7, 340-pound Loadholt has Whit-like dimensions and Whitworth worked on his hands and hips. Alexander, who says coaching is Whitworth's destiny, would simply say, " 'Whit, show him what happens on a spin move,' " or " 'Whit, show him how you have to use the bottom hand on the inside moves.' "
"You just try to help them with their hips and leverage and get them to get the most out of their bodies," Whitworth said. "I don't know what will happen with coaching. We'll see."
First, he has to find out where the club wants him to line up.