Andrew Whitworth among those who believe Bengals need swagger reclamation


CINCINNATI -- Andrew Whitworth has played a key role in the attitude adjustment that has occurred in the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room in recent years.

His leadership has helped the Bengals go from perennial league laughingstock and daily fodder for police blotters, to a better behaved, regular postseason contender.

But as much positive change as he has seen the past 10 years, the Pro Bowl offensive tackle believes something is missing.

"We need some -- young kids now call it swagger -- but we need some of that ability to have a confidence in us that says, 'You know what? It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from or how good the football team is we're playing, we're really good, too, and we're going to bring it and you better stop it,'" Whitworth said.

"We need a little of that attitude."

If he says it, it must be true.

Although the Bengals have made it to the wild-card round of the playoffs the past four years, 24 have passed since the franchise won a playoff game. In that time, Cincinnati has had just six winning seasons. Five came with Marvin Lewis serving as head coach, and four happened under Whitworth's watch.

During many of those losing years, the locker room was replete with individual swagger. T.J. Houshmandzadeh for example, a receiver on the 2001-08 teams, relished letting his cornerbacks know they couldn't beat him in practice.

"When I came in it was sort of learn on your own, a do-what-you-want-to-do type of thing," said Houshmandzadeh, who joined the coaching staff last week for a two-week internship.

Whitworth spent three seasons with Houshmandzadeh and remembered the receiver's practice chatter as a tactic he used to boost his confidence, and in turn, his play. A seventh-round draft choice, expectations weren't universally high for Houshmandzadeh.

"A lot of the guys we have have always had the skill set to play in the NFL, but are they going to play tough enough and gritty enough and be relentless with the competition?" Whitworth said. "That's the way T.J. was. Every day in practice was almost a fight because he was going to get that football and he was going to get open and he was going to fight for position every single snap.

"The fire and tenacity he played the game with is something that definitely can carry on."

Make no mistake, the Bengals currently have players who play with fire and tenacity, but the locker room confrontations are less frequent. Aside from a couple of notable exceptions, players now aren't as brash in the way they hold each other accountable.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been on a mission the past two years to reclaim a touch of that abrasiveness. He got A.J. Green speaking up a little more last year, and encouraged Andy Dalton to be more vocal offensively, too. He also encouraged Jeremy Hill's touchdown celebrations, and wanted Rex Burkhead's gritty practice habits replicated.

"Hue's touched on grit and adversity and toughness and being able to adapt," Whitworth said. "The real thing you can adapt to is the football game, and rise to the occasion when a great play needs to be made. Or make a great play when you're tired and you have to grit it up and make the next play exhausted."

Whitworth believes that style of play can be learned, but "at some point a guy has to click it on and say, 'That's what I want to do.'"

Can the Bengals reclaim their old swagger while also building upon recent success? That's a question Whitworth, among others, hopes will be answered affirmatively.