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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Andrews ready to take over in Cincinnati

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Getty Images/AP
 Stacy Andrews, left, has huge shoes to fill while Willie Anderson, right, has accepted his reserve role.

Stacy Andrews, in many ways, can relate to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Cincinnati Bengals starting right tackle has huge shoes to fill, and there will be a large shadow from a regular Pro Bowler looming over Andrews during the 2008 season.

But there is one significant difference in this particular case: Cincinnati stalwart Willie Anderson is still on the roster.

The Bengals' coaching staff decided to move forward with Andrews as the team's starting right tackle over Anderson this summer. Anderson, a starter for nearly all of his 13 seasons, could have easily caused a stir with the team's position.

There were early hints this offseason that might be the case when Anderson told reporters he was coming to training camp to take his job back. But Anderson, 33, later thought about the situation and has accepted his reserve role, which is the best move for both his relationship with Andrews and the team.

"My thing now is: I want Stacy to be the starting tackle," Anderson said. "I'm not going to fight it. I don't want it to be a competitive situation because I'm 13 years in right now and I don't have the energy to compete, and try to compete, because I know there are some things physically that, in training camp (and preseason), I'm not going to be able to go full speed all the time."

The right tackle slot has been a safe haven for Bengals quarterbacks and running backs the past 13 seasons under Anderson.

The four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro is one of the most underrated offensive linemen of this generation. He could have more Pro Bowls on his resume had the Bengals put together more than just one winning season in his career.

But the wear and tear of years in the trenches has taken a toll on Anderson's body. He has been battling injuries--mostly knee and foot issues--for the past several seasons.

Last year Anderson's injuries finally caught up with him as his consecutive starts streak of 116 games ended Oct. 14, 2007 in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He played just seven games last year, starting five, which were the fewest in his career.

The youth movement to Andrews actually began towards the end of 2007. When Anderson returned to the team for games 15 and 16, the Bengals asked him to play as a reserve for the first time since his rookie year in 1996.

That also gave Anderson more time to tutor and be attentive to Andrews while on the sidelines and not playing as much.

"It's an honor," Andrews said of replacing Anderson fulltime. "A guy like Willie, being in the position that he is in, is the same guy he was before this (situation). He's still my mentor, so that means the world to me.

"He is a phenomenal guy on and off the field, and he passed everything down to me. So now it's time to make him happy because of what he taught me."

Andrews needed to learn from a technician like Anderson. The former fourth-round pick received a very late introduction to football at Ole Miss.

With impressive size at 6-foot-7 and 342 pounds, Andrews was an All-American shot put and discuss thrower throughout college and was first introduced to football in 2002 when he redshirted. He played just five collegiate games before the Bengals drafted him as a raw project in the fourth round in 2004.

It took the Bengals' coaching staff and players such as Anderson and teammate Levi Jones that entire rookie season to teach Andrews the basics of football. His younger brother, Shawn, picked up the sport earlier and was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It took my first two years in the NFL to kind of get caught up with the game," Andrews said. "That was my main thing, because I hadn't played much before then. So it was mostly about getting everything down and the techniques and getting mentally ready."

By his third season Andrews made his first three starts filling in for injured right guard Bobbie Williams in 2006. Eventually, the mental aspect of the game caught up with Andrew's natural ability and he had a solid season last year, starting 14 games at both left guard and right tackle.

"He's a very talented guy, physically gifted," Anderson said. "I've always said he's probably one of the better athletes on this team, probably (among) the top five athletes on this team."

Andrews signed a one-year franchise tender this year. And along with receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Andrews will be the most sought after free agent the Bengals have in 2009.

Considering the team is willing to bench one of its best players in franchise history this season in favor of Andrews, it doesn't seem likely that the Bengals will let him bolt to free agency.

"I would love to be here long term, I really would," Andrews said. "Hopefully we can get something done and I can make this a permanent home."