Saturday, February 22, 2014
Questions on Whitworth should fade soon
By Coley Harvey
INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Lewis is tired of hearing them. Andrew Whitworth is, too.
But the questions about whether Whitworth, the Cincinnati Bengals' veteran Pro Bowl offensive lineman, will end up playing left guard or left tackle next season likely will continue until mid May, the time when the team ought to settle its O-line roster following the NFL draft and free agency.
So as much as the head coach and his versatile, team-first lineman may hate being asked them, both ought to know that for now, the questions won't completely disappear.
Whether Andrew Whitworth suits up at left guard or left tackle in 2014, the Bengals will still rely on the experience of their eight-year veteran.
At the NFL combine Friday, during a nearly 30-minute session with Bengals media, Lewis told reporters he felt the inquiries about Whitworth's status had already been overdone.
"Too much has been made of it. Andrew Whitworth has said many times during the season he'll play where he needs to play to make the football team win, which is the same statement he made to me, and then now, someone gets one little thing and makes a mountain out of a molehill. Whit will play wherever he feels is best for the football team. He loved playing inside at guard, and he's been our starting left tackle. He continues [to be] and will be a player for us somehow, somewhere."
Earlier this offseason, Whitworth made it evident that until he was told otherwise, he considered himself a left tackle.
"I've been a left tackle here and will continue to be the left tackle, and if not, there's something we have to do," Whitworth told ESPN.com. "That's the spot that I've been playing and I played it really well."
Whitworth began the 2013 season the same way he did the previous four: as a left tackle. It's the position that earned him a postseason trip to Hawaii in 2012.
But last December after left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL at San Diego, Whitworth asked coaches to let him switch back to the position where he was used for two of the first three years of his career. After opening enough holes to help the Bengals rush for 164 yards, the second-highest rushing total they had last season, the move stuck. Whitworth stayed at left guard through the playoffs.
By having Whitworth at that position, the Bengals saw their blocking increase, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. Before transitioning to his current role last month, Jackson served as running backs coach.
"It looked like London Bridges out there where everything was getting knocked down," Jackson said. "He brought that mentality, and to me, that is how we have to play every play. In the game in San Diego when Boling got hurt, he went out there and didn't blink. We had one of our best rushing days and that tells you a lot."
Boling hopes to be fully healthy by September.
As selfless as Whitworth's decision to move to guard was, Jackson and Lewis hold the final word on where the lineman plays next season. They contend they will only place him there if it's the right fit for where their new offense plans to go. Those plans also hinge in part on Anthony Collins' free agent future. Cincinnati would like to bring the backup tackle back, but may ultimately be unable to. If Collins isn't on the team next season, Whitworth's status as a left tackle seems assured. If Collins stays, the Bengals have good reason to debate whether to keep Whitworth at the spot he shined late last year, or to return him to the place he believes he's best suited to play.
"We'll see how things shake out and what's good for the Bengals," Lewis said. "We have an opportunity to have some depth. We'll continue to try to work hard toward having that kind of depth on our football team."
Exactly how will that depth come together later this offseason, though? Will it be through the draft, retention of key free agents or the placement of Whitworth? The Bengals ought to be able to provide a few answers by the middle of May.