NFL Nation: Willie Anderson

It's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you played during the golden age of the NFL's most celebrated franchise. Dave Robinson was an elite playmaking linebacker on some of Vince Lombardi's best Green Bay Packers teams, but it took 38 years after his retirement before he was recognized as such by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Robinson will be enshrined as part of the 2013 class thanks to the Hall's senior committee, which nominated him and Curley Culp (a Detroit Lions defensive lineman in 1980-81) last summer. As we discussed earlier in the week, a nomination from the seniors committee generally is viewed as an attempt to right a previous wrong, and 25 of the past 30 nominees have been elected by the larger selection committee.

Robinson was one of the first linebackers with the speed an athleticism to cover the emerging tight end position. He had 21 interceptions in 10 seasons with the Packers, including 12 during the period from 1965-67, an NFL-high for linebackers. In Packers history, the only linebackers with more interceptions are John Anderson and Ray Nitschke.

By my count, Robinson played with 10 other Packers players who ultimately made the Hall of Fame and was coached by an 11th, Vince Lombardi. That's just an incredible number. At various times during his career, he played alongside Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderly, defensive end Willie Davis, safety Willie Wood and defensive tackle Henry Jordan. Can you imagine a defense with seven Hall of Famers? Wow.

Overall, Robinson is the 22nd member of the Packers organization to be elected to the hall of Fame. Congratulations on an honor that was no doubt worth the wait.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
12:30
PM ET
Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

  Oher

The training wheels have officially been removed for Baltimore Ravens first-round pick Michael Oher.

Following Wednesday's development of veteran right tackle Willie Anderson being put on the reserve/retired list, Oher is now Baltimore's starter at right tackle for the 2009 season.

The wear and tear of playing in the trenches simply took its toll on Anderson, who gutted out a solid 2008 season in which he played some of his best football in recent memory. He's been dealing with knee and leg issues since his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, and at age 33, Anderson could no longer grind out another season.

An educated guess is the Ravens saw this coming. Last month they traded up in the first round to get Oher, which is a sign the team sensed a big question mark at the position. It is unknown if the team expected Anderson to retire, but the Ravens definitely wanted competition and insurance at the position.

Now that insurance policy in Oher is being cashed in right away.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
  Rex Brown/Getty Images
  How will Braylon Edwards respond to returning to Cleveland?

Here are some post-draft notes and observations from within the division:

  • The Cleveland Browns potentially have a situation on their hands with a returning Braylon Edwards. The former Pro Bowl receiver was reportedly included in heavy trade talks with the New York Giants. Eventually, talks broke down and nothing occurred this weekend. Now the Browns have to tread carefully to make sure Edwards feels wanted again. For the record it is unknown if Edwards is upset about the talks, and it's doubtful this would be a Jay Cutler-type situation. But it could require a little ego stroking for everyone to move on for the 2009 season.
  • One of the most compelling competitions I'm looking forward to this summer will be in Baltimore. A rookie first-round pick (Michael Oher) will battle a grizzled veteran (Willie Anderson) for the Ravens' right-tackle spot. Baltimore got solid value in Oher at No. 23 and he should man the position for a long time. But Anderson had a decent season there as well and wants to hold the spot for at least one more year, setting up an intriguing position battle in training camp.
  • Speaking of competition, there is officially a logjam at punter for the Cincinnati Bengals. The team drafted rookie punter Kevin Huber in the sixth round to go with free-agent signee Ryan Plackemeier and last year's punter Kyle Larson. This either means there will be a three-way competition this summer or one of these players will soon be released. Stay tuned.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Max Starks is one of the most important players on Pittsburgh's roster right now, but it's not for reasons you'd expect. Cornerback Ike Taylor and receiver Hines Ward recently re-worked their contracts to free up cap space before the NFL draft. But Starks' $8.451 million salary for 2009, courtesy of the franchise tag, also is taking up significant space at the moment. It was expected that Pittsburgh would work out an extension with Starks, but to date that hasn't happened. With Pittsburgh bringing in nine draft picks over the weekend, the team will need to begin cutting players or reach a long-term extension with Starks to get everyone under contract. An educated guess is the Steelers would prefer the latter.

Ravens grab OT Oher

April, 25, 2009
4/25/09
6:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Baltimore Ravens continued the AFC North trend of trades Saturday by moving up to take Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher with the No. 23 overall pick (from the Patriots). With the selection, the Ravens added protection for second-year quarterback Joe Flacco.

Jared Gaither was solid in 2008 and appears firmly entrenched in his spot at left tackle, so expect Oher to compete with veteran Willie Anderson on the right side. With Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew both off the board, Oher provided good value since the Ravens still wanted to help Flacco and the offense.

Defensively, USC linebacker Rey Maualuga would have been a good fit at No. 23. But it appears the Ravens like their in-house candidates to replace former starting linebacker Bart Scott.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Albert Haynesworth was not impressed. He played them twice and stopped them mostly, albeit not often enough to beat them when it mattered.

Haynesworth, the Tennessee Titans' all-world defensive tackle, couldn't believe the meager Baltimore Ravens were advancing to the AFC Championship Game.

 
  Larry French/Getty Images
  Joe Flacco has run the Baltimore offense efficiently his first season in the league.

"I think their offense is weak," he said after the Ravens ousted the Titans, 13-10, at LP Field in the divisional playoffs. "I don't think they have much of an offense. We shut down the run. We shut down pretty much the pass."

Bitterness stoked Haynesworth's comments. Boredom has done the same for many others.

Baltimore's offense doesn't exactly defibrillate the Sunday soul. It is based on such hardcore football tenets as ball control, field position and clock management.

"Nothing that'll make you put your seatbelt on and have a sweat towel off to the side for," said ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart.

But the Ravens are more intricate than three runs and a visit from the long snapper. Although they'll never be described as prolific, the Ravens head into Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers with one of the NFL's more straightforward and efficient offenses.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has designed a system unassuming rookie quarterback Joe Flacco can handle mainly because a run play never is the wrong play.

Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice propelled the Ravens to an average of 148.5 rushing yards a game, fourth-highest in the league. They ranked 28th in passing offense, trying the third-fewest throws.

The Ravens committed 21 turnovers, a decent figure. Yet when subtracted from their league-high 34 takeaways, their plus-13 turnover margin ranked third.

The Ravens came up with three takeaways deep in their own territory to beat the Titans.

"They had about two or three pass plays and that's about it," Haynesworth lamented. "We gave them a lot of stuff. The offense gave the ball away and kept them in the game."

Podcast: Football Today
Jeremy Green takes an early look at the AFC Championship Game with ESPN.com blogger James Walker.

With the Ravens' incandescent defense providing support, the need for Flacco to take chances is minimized. So often the Ravens' defense would steal the ball, perhaps score on its own and usually set up the offense with a short field.

Or, with the high likelihood of a three-and-out performance from Baltimore's defenders, a simple Sam Koch punt looked good enough that the Ravens would run on third down and be content to flip the field that way.

"It's doing all the right things to put your team in position to win," said Marc Trestman, a former offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach for seven NFL teams and now head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

"It would be just totally inappropriate for them to put all the weight on the shoulder of Joe Flacco at this point in his career. They don't have to because they have elements that are dynamic: Their ability to play defense, the ability to get the football, the ability to get to the quarterback, play special teams and run the football."

(Read full post)

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  Samari Rolle and the Baltimore defense had some calls go their way Saturday but also forced three Tennessee turnovers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A cynic could find so many excuses why the Baltimore Ravens won Saturday.

Lucky plays. Iffy officiating. Not having to face a game-breaker for most of the afternoon.

The Ravens aren't interested in justifying their 13-10 AFC divisional playoffs victory over the Tennessee Titans. For the second straight week, they went on the road and hammered a divisional champion into submission.

The wild-card Ravens are headed to the AFC Championship Game, and they're not one bit apologetic about it.

"Our guys just found a way to get them stopped when they had to," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There is nobody to blame on that."

  Cardinals-Panthers highlights
  NFL.com Video
  Highlights of the Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Titans in the AFC divisional playoff.

To call the Ravens a team of destiny would be rather melodramatic. They'll visit the winner of Sunday night's San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers showdown.

The Ravens lost both of their games against the Steelers by a combined seven points, the first one in overtime. The Ravens didn't play the Chargers.

But Saturday at LP Field, Baltimore sure looked like a team of destiny with all of the breaks that went its way.

  • Tennessee committed three turnovers in Baltimore territory, including an Alge Crumpler fumble on the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with Baltimore ahead, 10-7.
  • A delay of game penalty was not called on a third-down conversion that kept the Ravens' winning drive alive late in the fourth quarter, a drive that ended with Matt Stover's game-winning 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.
  • The Titans were without rookie running back Chris Johnson for the second half. He was well on his way to having the best ground game of any Ravens' opponent with 72 yards on 11 carries.
  • Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas pushed a 51-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the third quarter, one play after a 5-yard Bo Scaife catch was negated by replay.
  • Baltimore's first 10 points were the result of long Joe Flacco pass plays, including a 37-yard pass to Mark Clayton, who sorted through double coverage from Pro Bowlers Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope to come up with the ball.

But great teams make their own breaks, and the Ravens' afternoon wasn't exactly a frolic under the rainbow

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a sprained right shoulder and missed the second half. A bad ankle forced Pro Bowl running back Le'Ron McClain off the field for several snaps. Four-time Pro Bowl tackle Willie Anderson was in and out with a stinger. Cornerback Samari Rolle left the game in the second half with a groin injury.

"It was a heavyweight fight," Suggs said. "We would have been happy if nobody got injured, but it was a dogfight, and there was a lot of bloodshed."

So the Ravens didn't want to hear any whining about the Titans' offense being short-handed without Johnson.

"We're not going to feel sorry for these guys," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "We've got five starters on this defense that barely made it past Week 5.

"It was a physical game. We try to do that against any back. We try to make it physical, make it a rough day for them. Sometimes they don't hold up."

Sometimes the odds don't hold up either. Titans running back LenDale White said afterward his team would beat the Ravens nine times out of 10, and Saturday happened to be the exception.

The Titans had a statistical edge in every category aside from turnovers. They outgained the Ravens 391-211 and had the ball more than eight minutes longer.

The Titans limited the Ravens to nine first downs and held the league's No. 4 run offense to 50 yards rushing. McClain ran 12 times for 12 yards. Willis McGahee had 12 carries for 32 yards, and 11 of those came on one play.

Joe Flacco by distance thrown
  Less than 10 yards 10 yards or more
Comp-Att 7-11 4-11 *
Pass Yards 43 118
Yards per att. 3.9 10.7
TD-INT 0-0 1-0
Passer Rating 71.4 107.4
* 3 completions came on scoring drives
-- ESPN Stats & Information

Flacco was a nondescript 11 of 22 for 161 yards. But he completed two long passes, one for a 48-yard touchdown to Derrick Mason and the 37-yard completion to Clayton that set up Stover's first field goal.

"Our offense struggled a bit," Mason said.

The difference, though, was the Ravens' defense.

It's always the defense.

They were pushed around but came up with critical plays when it mattered.

Although the Titans lost only two of them, they fumbled five times. In addition to Crumpler's costly fumble on the doorstep, White lost one on the Ravens' 15-yard line right before halftime.

Kerry Collins threw an interception Rolle tracked down at the Ravens' 9-yard line to end a drive that started on the Titans 1-yard line and lasted 13 meaningless plays.

"They were moving the ball," Scott said. "They were doing a great job. They were breaking tackles. We just continued to fight and refused to let them in. We made the plays we had to.

"We'll take it any way we can get it."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Baltimore Ravens right tackle Willie Anderson returned for the start of the fifth series, but Pro Bowl running back Le'Ron McClain suffered a right ankle injury on the drive.

McClain's return was announced in the press box as probable.

McClain was face down on the field for a few minutes. He walked off the field slowly and gingerly, but two trainers were at the ready to keep him steered in the right direction.

McClain, who started out as the fullback and eventually took over the workload, led the Ravens with 902 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fortunately for Ravens fans, there's not a huge dropoff from McClain to Willis McGahee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Baltimore Ravens starting right tackle Willie Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler, is out of Saturday's playoff game against the Tennessee Titans with a stinger shooting down his left arm.

Anderson's return to the game is questionable. He still is on the sideline and hasn't been taken in for X-rays, which is a good sign.

The injury occurred early on the Ravens' third possession. He was replaced by Adam Terry, and the Ravens drove for a touchdown. Joe Flacco connected with Derrick Mason on a 48-yard strike to tie the game at 7.

Flacco's throw came on third-and-13. So much for my earlier post about the Ravens' reluctance to call his number on third-and-long.

Flacco is only 2-for-4, but he has 56 yards and a score.

Update: Anderson has returned to the game.

AFC North Year in Review

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
4:00
PM ET
 
 US Presswire
 Chad Ocho Cinco and Brady Quinn were among the big AFC North newsmakers in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

What a season in the AFC North!

There is still a lot of football left to play with two division teams in the playoffs. But in the final blog entry of 2008, let's look back at the year that was in the AFC North.

TOP FIVE Q&As

5. Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas discusses fishing and the league's toughest defense. (Aug. 1)

4. Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Willie Anderson talks about leaving the Cincinnati Bengals after 12 seasons. (Dec. 12)

3. Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh gives yours truly a hard time about ESPN.com's preseason predictions. (Sept. 2)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith describes the gory details of his biceps injury. (Aug. 11)

1. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott explains why he's the "Mad Backer." (Aug. 7)

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

Morning take: This is further proof that few pro sports teams are woven into the city's fabric quite like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Morning take: We've liked Alex Hall since minicamp. Now "Kamerion Wimbley-lite" gets a chance to show what he can do.

Morning take: Guess which team just received additional insight on Cincinnati's offense for Sunday's game?

Morning take: Win and produce, and Mr. 8-5 can do whatever he wants. Lose and play poorly, and there will be some finger-pointing his way after drawing so much attention.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

  • Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writers Mary Kay Cabot and Tony Grossi both picked the Browns to upend the Pittsburgh Steelers this year and take the division.

Morning take: Combined, the pair have seen more consecutive Browns games than anyone in the local and national media. Perhaps they feel the tide changing in this rivalry.

Morning take: Letfwich learned his lesson from last year when he desperately wanted to be a starter. But being a backup in a solid offense in Pittsburgh is much better than getting the stuffing beat out of you as a starter with the awful Atlanta Falcons.

Morning take: It's a legitimate question. Safety Dexter Jackson and offensive tackle Levi Jones would be our first two guesses.

Morning take: Flacco has been taking first-team snaps for the past week and now has his peace of mind. Check back for more on Flacco's first career start later.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting story lines from this weekend in the AFC North:

  • Unless something changes dramatically with Troy Smith (viral infection) in the next couple days, it appears Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will start Sunday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Morning take: Although we've predicted Flacco would be the starter in Week 1 since June, no one would've guessed it would come under these circumstances.

Morning take: It's difficult to predict anything the Bengals do these days. The team mentioned these moves were performance-based, but we're certain money also had a lot to do with it.

Morning take: Players in Cleveland have talked about this game for months. Most will probably tough it out to play against the Dallas Cowboys.

Bills: Cutdown analysis

August, 30, 2008
8/30/08
9:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Biggest surprise: The Buffalo Bills haven't had a go-to TE for years, but they must be confident Robert Royal is ready to claim that role. Royal is the only healthy TE on the roster after the Bills released Courtney Anderson and Tim Massaquoi. Anderson has 28 starts over his five NFL seasons, while Massaquoi played in four games without a catch last year for the Bills. Royal did have an impressive preseason, but behind him are Derek Schouman (knee) and fourth-round pick Derek Fine (recent thumb surgery), both of whom are out indefinitely.

No-brainers: DT Jason Jefferson spent three seasons as a Bills reserve, but he wasn't going to make the roster after they acquired Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson. His only hope was an injury or some other cataclysmic event, but Stroud has been a monster and Johnson has been solid, too.

The Bills also had to give up on 2007 fourth-round draft pick Dwayne Wright because he couldn't stop fumbling and was beaten out by Xavier Omon, a perceived project player who was drafted in the sixth round and earmarked for the practice squad.

What's next: The Bills were thin on the offensive line, and they released five blockers. The return of Pro Bowl holdout LT Jason Peters would help rectify that, but if there has been no progress made in his contract dispute, they might be interested in Cincinnati Bengals castoff Willie Anderson (if he's a better fit at LT he could allow Langston Walker to move back to RT) or perhaps more depth.

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."

SPONSORED HEADLINES