Andrew Whitworth went to his second Pro Bowl last season.
This is one of the reasons why Andrew Whitworth keeps playing. He still enjoys the guys, the locker room, the very game of football.
Tackle? Guard? Mayor of West Monroe, La.? What exactly does 2017 hold?
"Who knows?" he asked with a laugh before the Bengals started their mandatory minicamp this week. "Maybe I get down to 280 pounds and I'm a blocking tight end. You never know what happens. You have to keep your options open."
At 34 chasing down 35 like he bores down on unsuspecting safeties with his ridiculously athletic down-field blocks and coming off his second Pro Bowl at left tackle, this has become Whitworth's catch phrase.
"Keep your options open."
It is just too early for Whitworth to decide if 2016 is going to his last season. He's one of the five best offensive linemen the Bengals have ever had, but that's the only definitive. He has made no decision about next year. His contract is up, but he has to figure out if he is up and his 11th mandatory minicamp is just too early to make the call.
"There is just a lot of work to be done. Thinking about years past this, you just can't do it now," Whitworth said. "As you get older, it takes a lot more focus to play. A lot of mental drain. You have to rehab correctly. You have to stay in and get treatments. You have to keep your body in shape. There are so many more things now. When you were young you could run through a brick wall and bounce back no matter what you did."
That's why he didn't practice the last two days of the minicamp on Wednesday and Thursday. During his two Pro Bowls he compared notes with other linemen and found that they pretty much had the same schedules. Less is more. Especially for bigger guys.
It seems to have worked because as offensive line coach Paul Alexander observed this week, "He's looked good in the OTAs. It's just going to be as long as the body is willing. As long as God keeps the body healthy."
Or, as right guard Kevin Zeitler said, "He's a freak," and that's coming from a 26-year-old physical anomaly himself.
Whitworth says there are two better times during the season to ask him if he's going to keep playing. Check back with him after training camp. And if not then, try the middle of December or right after the season in January or February.
"I don't think the seasons are as hard as they used to be," Whitworth said. "It's probably December, January when the beating has added up. That's a good time. And as training camp ends because training camp is the most physical demanding part of the year even if you're getting a day off.
"That's the most hitting you have all year. Not the football season. Some teams wear pads on Wednesdays and some don't (the Bengals usually do) and you don't hit again until Sunday . . . That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. You don't have the same hitting during the season. For me its training camp and the end of the season."
Whitworth is on the verge of playing the fourth most games ever on the Bengals offensive line.
Say all you want about the body, but for Whitworth it very well could come down to the mind. Alexander says he's got that conquered: "He's got pro football figured out. He knows exactly what it's all about." And what he knows is there has to be a passion.
"I just want to make sure to never take money if I'm not working for it," Whitworth said. "If I ever felt mentally I'm just not that interested or not that inspired, then I don't want to do this. I want to do something I'm interested in."
And at this snapshot in time he's very much interested. His good friend, backup tackle Eric Winston, is heading into his second full season with the team, Alexander has been his only coach, he and wife Melissa are popular and giving members of the community with four children careening into school age, and the challenge is still there.
"The will every year to re-build yourself and see how good you can be," Whitworth said. "That's the challenge to me. I just love it. It's just not football."
The Bengals extended Whitworth for one year at $9 million early last season and they have to be happy they did. Their two prized young tackles that have been projected to replace him and right tackle Andre Smith (now in Minnesota) haven't been able to get on the field this spring with nagging but unspecified injuries. They swiped valuable snaps from Cedric Ogbuehi, the 2015 first-rounder trying to prepare to replace Smith, and Jake Fisher, the man picked behind Ogbuehi in the second round.
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Even though he had a dustup with management a year ago in the spring before he signed the extension, Whitworth says he couldn't see himself playing for another team. In this current snapshot.
"I couldn't see myself playing 10 years in the league, either," Whitworth said. "You adapt as you go. Hopefully if I play it will be here. That would be the No. 1 thing I want to happen."
It's too early, he says, to make a decision to keep playing. But it's never too early to talk about Whitworth ending his career as a guard. It's been talked about ever since he replaced the injured Clint Boling at left guard for the last month of the 2013 AFC North title and they pounded people on the ground.
"It still doesn't matter. It has to work out where there is a need for me," Whitworth said. "Where I would have a place. The bottom line is everyone has a time frame when a team has to move in a different direction. It's a business. If it would work out, it would work out. If it doesn't, it's really nobody's fault. That's how it fell into place."
It's just too early. Like this question. If he decides to keep playing, would he rather play guard in Cincinnati or tackle elsewhere? And this is where family and roots start to pull.
(Think of this. If he plays in every game this season like he has six of the last seven years, he'll have played the fourth most games by an offensive lineman in the history of the franchise at 168. That would be behind only Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz (185), right tackle Willie Anderson (181), and center-guard Bruce Kozerski (172).
"I don't know. There are a lot of factors. A lot depends on where," Whitworth said. "For me, my kids go to school here. We have a home here. I've heard different owners what the effect has on moving and hiring and firing coaches. I think long-tenured players are the same way. That was my frustration last year. I wanted to keep playing; I was still playing at a high level. To have to uproot my kids and my family, it's a tough thing to swallow.
"That's one of those things you fight as a coach, as a player when you've been somewhere a long time. It's important to keep your options open, but of course you want be where you want to be and that's in Cincinnati."
But it is just too early. In Cincinnati, Whitworth and everyone else is looking at that Super Bowl appearance that seemed so much within reach last year
"It's a good team," Whitworth said.
2017 might as well be 2117.
Cincinnati Bengals host minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium 6/16/2016