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Whitworth primed after best season


Andrew Whitworth isn't looking for the gold watch just yet.

Whitworth, the Bengals' cornerstone left tackle at age 33, says he's got four to five years left and he plans to play them like this past season. Which he considers the best of his nine. And as he goes into his 10th year now a full two years removed from a knee procedure that plagued him for all of 2013, he says he's never worked harder or been in better shape in the offseason.

"I've never given up zero sacks and no free hits on the quarterback in a season and not many do, so, yeah," said Whitworth Monday when asked about 2014. "In every aspect of the game I got a little better last year. Honestly, I feel even better this year. I was still in that window (last year) from a knee injury. In the (last) offseason I trained really hard but didn't think I could fully do everything I do now. I worked out hard, but I didn't run that much. This year I have done it all." agrees.

They rated him as the league's No. 1 pass blocker, the oldest of the top five. He's got a month on the runner-up, 33-year-old Jason Peters of the Eagles. The next two were AFC North rivals, 30-year-old Joe Thomas of the Browns, and 25-year-old Kelvin Beachum of the Steelers, respectively. Oakland's Donald Penn, 32, rounded out the top five.

But they didn't come close to Whitworth in a season PFF marked him down for allowing no sacks and just one QB hit. Thomas came the closest allowing two and three, respectively.

At this point, Whitworth stops listening to the buzz. When he suffered the knee injury and they had to resort to rest and treatment during the 2013 offseason and training camp to save his year, there was concern about his future. And after his Pro Bowl worthy season last year in which he didn't miss a game, he's heading into the last year of his deal sounding like a guy committed to playing well past his 34th birthday on Dec. 12. Right now, he won't say no to 40.

"I don't have any reason to think I would stop any time soon. Until I have a reason, then the answer is yeah. Any guy in this room has the clock ticking you just never know when that comes. Right now, I don't see any future where I am done soon," Whitworth said.  "Two years ago when I went through the thing with my knee and bounced back from that after that season and said, honestly, the rest of my body feels no different than it did the day I got in here. I said, man, I got to stop listening to what people are telling me and just work and let my body tell me.

"Right now, this is the strongest I've been in my life; most conditioned I've been in my life. I don't see the door that's closing. This is the strongest I've ever lifted in my career. I feel like I'm as fast or faster than I've ever been in my life. I'm in the best shape ever. I stop listening to what people thought about what year you are in or when they thought you should be done and started to just listening to what my body says. My body says I can still go get it. I'm still excited to take on anybody any day." 

Whitworth, the de facto offensive captain, has plenty of skins on the wall for a team looking to get over the hump and win that elusive playoff game. Leadership. Talent. Toughness. Five post-season runs. Two division titles. So as he hears the talk about the Bengals drafting his heir apparent in the first round on Thursday night, he gets down in a stance and dares them.

"I don't think I'd make it 10 years in the league if I was worrying about whom they are going to bring in next. I don't think I'd be 10 years in the league and still feeling like I could play four or five more if I was worried about who is next," Whitworth said. "I've always had the opposite mentality. Mess up and draft somebody at my position because you are going to sit around and watch him sit the bench. That's always been my mentality.  I see it as a challenge. That's why I always show up in the best shape possible. That's why I always come here lean and ready to go. I don't show up and try to develop myself for the season. I am here and ready to play right now if we had to."

Here's a guy that tells his wife every season he's not sure he'll make the club. But even if they draft a left tackle with the 21st pick, he's not going anywhere. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says he expects Whitworth "to do the same thing this year," when he played like the best left tackle in football. Jackson, who is trying to instill a don't-settle-for-just-good mindset on the offense the way Mike Zimmer rode the defense and the way Paul Guenther wants to keep it alive, loves Whitworth's response to putting a rookie on the bench.

"He's so competitive and that's what you want," Jackson said.  "You like to have that kind of competition and you like to have that kind of mindset. But I know he respects and understands that we have to do what's best for the organization."

Whitworth may be on board, but he's not going to give up his job. Since he's been here, they've taken just one first-round tackle and that was right tackle Andre Smith in 2009.

"I want them to bring in anybody that makes our team better. I don't care if it's my spot or not," Whitworth said. "When we talk about that challenge of taking that on that's just me personally at my spot. I love any guy that has a chance to help us. Truth is, eventually they have to find a young guy that one day can be that position barring injury and those things. I understand that part and any kid that comes here with the hunger to be good, I want him in this locker room. That only makes us better."

But Whitworth just isn't a fan of the draft. Especially mock drafts. Remember back in 2006? The majority had him labelled as a guard or right tackle, failing to see the athleticism that allowed him to make a record 52 starts in the SEC as LSU's left tackle.

Even in Cincinnati he didn't become the regular left tackle until 2009.

"(The draft) is not that much of a memory for me because I wasn't one of the guys everyone was slobbering over," Whitworth said. "I was the guy they didn't know what I would play, tackle or guard or right tackle, wherever. I laugh all the time when I came out. Every bio I read, you would wonder if I knew how to put one foot in front of the other.  I was apparently so stiff and unathletic. That's why the draft is special, every kid has an opportunity to come in and make their dream come true. Ten years later I'm still having that opportunity."

That's why he won't just be handing it over.

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