(A transcript of former Bengals Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson's conference call Wednesday with the Cincinnati media for Sunday's game against his Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.)
Q: Your emotions coming back here? A:
I'm sure once I get to Cincinnati, the emotions will be different as far as seeing the city. But right now, my goal right now is to get through today's practice. But once I get back there Saturday and we land in the city, I see the city and pass by the stadium and all that stuff, I'm sure there will be some emotions. But I'm trying my best to keep it as normal of a week as I can for me.
Q: Thoughts when you watch the Bengals defense? A:
It's different, man. It's kind of what we all thought it would be once they brought Coach Zimmer in. Watching him in training camp and some of the OTAs, you knew that he would get guys to respond different. And that's one of the biggest things right now. He's getting guys to respond and all the other problems that we've historically had there, they're doing that and a great job at it as far as hustling and thinking gaps and just being where you're supposed to be at.
That's one thing Marvin always harped on: If we just be where we should be at and play the defense, good things will happen. For that defense, that's really going to be a major challenge for us because they are playing well and they are carrying the team.
Q: People are disappointed in the offensive line here. You have friends in that group. Any thoughts? A:
You know, it is what it is. We've got our own issues over here as well. I've talked to several of the guys over the course of the year and I watched a guy like Whitworth, who was having a pretty good season before he got hurt. Played against some top guys. It was funny watching these guys play, because we played some of the similar teams, so right after they played Tennessee, we played Tennessee. So we got a chance to watch these guys and watch them against Cleveland.
It's the same thing we've got going on here. Our group is a lot younger here, but we've got our issue here. On this play we'll play good, on the next play we don't play as good. But I'm sure those guys are going to keep fighting, the guys that are left—Bobbie and Ghiaciuc and Stacy and those guys, and if you add in—I watched the game and saw Nate (Livings) and (Anthony Collins) play well against Pittsburgh. So that's something from them guys to build on. I'm sure they'll try to build on that success they had.
Q: How is Lorenzo Neal doing? A:
Lo's doing good, man. Lo played a lot on Sunday and basically had a Lo Neal highlight tape again. So we sat there and watched him this morning, some of the knockouts. I think he knocked two guys out of the game. So Lo Neal, Lo Neal.
Q: How much have you seen Flacco grow up from the first week? A:
A lot. I've talked to him a lot about the things we went through with Carson and it's kind of a similar thing; the more he's able to handle, the more we can do as an offense. The thing I like about it here, too, is that Coach Cam (Cameron) and Hue Jackson, they weren't trying to dumb down the offense. Each and every week they've put more on it and our confidence grew as an offense because we saw how smart this guy was and how much stuff he's been able to handle.
We knew our goals are to keep improving as an offense and become an explosive offense. One of the main goals here at the beginning of the season was we weren't going to let our defense carry us all of the time. It's going to be a team effort, where sometimes they carry us and some games we carry them. The more he's able to take on each and every week the better we become as an offense.
Q: What's it like having Ray-Ray as a teammate? A:
It's great, man. Ray, Lorenzo and I spend a lot of time together. Ray is hooked up with my doctors that I bring up here every weekend, he's a regular in there now so we get a chance to talk a lot. Just seeing the way he views football - he's been looking at me from across the field all these years and the things we talk about, all of the battles that we've had, since the Playboy All-American shoot where we first met.
A lot of good things have happened since then that have shaped us. One of the first things he told me was that it was a blessing for him to have me come here, and I said the same thing for me. I always wanted to see things through a guy like his eyes, to have that voice. The good thing about this team is that there are leaders everywhere. Ray is the spiritual backbone of the team but each group has two or three leaders in the group. That way team football is enforced because there is no one guy carrying everyone's burden.
Q: How different is it being on a team where the offense doesn't have to carry the load, where the defense has done that for so long? A:
It was different for me, just the way in the beginning with how the offense was thought about, but the offensive coaches quickly they made that point clear to us that we aren't going to be the slap-around guys for the defense. I like that. A guy like myself, Lorenzo Neal and Derrick Mason, we've been on good offenses before and we told the young guys that this is a different deal for us because the defense is a strong, dominating group. The defense is still a dominating group but now we're able to hold our own and you see guys look at the offensive guys a little different than they did in the past around here.
Q: What about the leadership here compared to there in the locker room? A:
Every team is different, and around here, like I said, leaders are bred and guys know their roles. Like I said, Ray Lewis is the spiritual leader of this team but at the same time in each component and group - Bart Scott is still a leader, Derrick Mason is one of the offensive leaders, myself and Lorenzo Neal, Jason Brown, our center. You've got guys all around. I never knew Ed Reed was as vocal and as intelligent of a football player as he is but you see it and that rubs off on guys.
They keep their groups in check. It's upon the leaders of that group to keep that group in check, to make sure that group is on time, to make sure that group is doing the right thing at practice, to make sure you're wearing the right clothes and doing the right things. There is nothing where coaches have to keep running behind guys and getting guys to do things the right way. For me, I love that because that puts the onus on the players to control the locker room. Coach Harbaugh does a good job of telling us what he wants; he wants his ways and there is no compromise with him but at the same time he gives the players a lot of leeway to self-discipline yourself and act as men.
Q: Who are some of the young guys that are those kinds of leaders on the Bengals? Or are there young guys you see here that can be that? A:
It's pretty much the same guys. You know how they feel about the old guys, and the old guys will pretty soon be out of there. John Thornton pretty much kept those defensive linemen guys in check. John Thornton is the ultimate professional and always has been. You guys know that. Then you've got a guy like Dhani Jones. That's another 30-year-old guy that's staying extra with the linebackers, staying late with the special teams guys and making the impact that he made last year on special teams and now this year on defense, it's still the older guys. I've said all of the time, kids can't teach kids.
You've got guys like T.J. staying late and doing his stuff, taking care of his body, and you would hope that a young guy would see how well he stays in shape and how well he takes care of his body. Guys can only know that through experience, from being three, four or five years in the league, and before you know it you're 25, 26, 27 years old and that's when guys are playing their best football.
Q: I know you didn't want to leave here but did the move some how invigorate you? A:
Oh man, so much, man. At first I was mad because it was one of the hardest things I've done. Being somewhere for so long and being comfortable, there was point early in the season where I was like 'I don't want to do this; this is too much for me to do.' I sat in a hotel for a month and a half trying to find a place to stay and, like I said, I was out of my comfort zone. I couldn't believe that I had gotten to the point in my career where I was out of my comfort zone, I'm in a new environment.
I'm bad with learning new people, so having to learn new people, and then the biggest thing was football wise was that so much was said about me here when I left Cincinnati that the coaches here had to really see for themselves: Can he play here? Is he too old or will he practice? I've never had those things said about me as vigorously as they were said so that first month and a half I was in show-and-prove mode. I'm still in show-and-prove mode. I'm playing well now but I want to continue to play better and show these coaches here - and the organization here that gave me an opportunity - that I can still play at a high level and not just be out there on the field.
Q: You said you were mad before. Who were you mad at? A:
I was mad at everybody. I was mad at Marvin, at management, because I didn't think in my mind that as a player. You think even though we all know there is no love in the game but you think that they like me and I do the right things, I say the right things and I play well when I do play. I was like 'They're going to allow me to retire here' and maybe get my Richie Braham tractor. I was looking forward to that. I was like: 'Man, Richie got a tractor' or whatever he got.
Q: I think it was a golf cart, wasn't it? A:
It was something ... so I was upset because I didn't think that was going to happen to me. Like all players do, you're naive and say that won't happen to me but then you look around the league and it happens to everybody. I was mad but then when I got here, the way I got embraced by my teammates, by my coaches and showing the guys that I can play and showing the guys that I want to be that model for these young guys and how these young guys have embraced me and how the defensive guys that I've been going against for 13 years how they've embraced me and how they encouraged me to forget about Cincinnati.
They were like, 'We know you can still play. We see you can play right now. Just get ready because we're going to have you in that lineup sooner or later.'
It's one of the scariest things you can have thinking: 'How are my new teammates going to accept me?' So now I'm friends with the same guys I was friends with in Cincinnati. I'm friends with the equipment guys here. I'm great with those guys. The training staff here is a great group of guys. The defensive guys, the offensive guys, the coaches - it's a good environment that breeds football where you can just concentrate on playing football and hopefully try to make a run at a playoff spot.
Q: As Mother Gibraltar of the Bengals how's it going to feel coming back to Cincinnati and heading to the visitor's locker room? A:
The feelings will probably come upon me once I land in Cincinnati and once I do get into the visitor's locker room. I'm going to have to get there and go find the groundskeeper guys so I can find my shovel - I want my shovel.
It's going to be coming from a different angle. I'll be coming there from a different side. I'll get a chance to see Dog and all of the security guys around there but until we get there it will be the same week for me. I'm sure emotions will be running high once I do get there.