Andrew Whitworth heard the words come out of his mouth and didn't really believe them.
"I caught myself calling someone a ‘rookie' the other day," said Whitworth. "That kind of shocked me."
In two short years Whitworth has gone from being a wide-eyed rookie thrown into playing left tackle into a player the Bengals deemed important enough to their future that they've already signed him to a contract extension. To Willie Anderson, the Bengals spent their money wisely to keep their left guard.
"He's one of the smart guys on offense and one of those guys you can plug in at a lot of positions and do a lot of things with. Every team has to have guys like that," said right tackle Anderson, who is entering his 13th season with the Bengals. "You've got guys like myself and Levi (Jones) that are going to play at one position and hopefully those guys are going to be solid for a long time like Levi and I have, but then you have guys like Whitworth who are way more valuable for what he does compared to what we do. Even though we try to do what we do at a high level over the years when you get a guy like Whitworth and the value he brings to the line and the offense you can't put a measure on it."
Whitworth has found his home at left guard after making 13 starts at left tackle through the first 19 games of his career. The Bengals drafted him in the second round of the 2006 draft. Whitworth helped LSU win a BCS national title in 2003 and had the distinction of never missing a practice let alone a game to injury while in college.
That kind of consistency has continued with the Bengals.
Whitworth dropped 15 pounds in the offseason. He wasn't overweight but if his first two seasons in the league taught him anything it was he needed to be prepared for anything.
"I want to be in better shape so that I can play better, knowing that I have to be versatile," said Whitworth. "I do feel better, I do feel more agile and I definitely feel that is because of the weight change."
One of the Bengals staple running plays is a power isolation run to the right side. The left guard pulls from his position and leads the running back through the hole behind the blocking of the right guard and right tackle. Former Bengals guard Eric Steinbach led Rudi Johnson on that play many a time while Johnson was gaining more than 4,200 yards on the ground from 2004-06.
Playing at more than 340 pounds last year Whitworth just wasn't as effective in space. When Whitworth did his own evaluation of last season that was an area he wanted to improve upon.
"I think Andrew has picked up where he left off last season," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "I think he left last season as really the emerging leader in the offensive line group. I don't think he's taking any steps sideways or back, but continues to move forward. He understands the game, he understands playing up front and the nuances of it. And he's very, very blessed with just an innate awareness of what's going on across the ball from him. He has a great vision of that, and he's able to help communicate that to the guys he plays with."
In the opening preseason game at Green Bay, Whitworth led the way on a 6-yard touchdown run by Chris Perry. Perry did a lot of work running through a pair of tackles to reach the end zone but he wouldn't have had gotten that far if not for Whitworth.
"That's part of the job on power run plays. I like it, I love to pull and run in space like that no matter whether it is tosses or powers," said Whitworth. "I do see losing the weight playing into that because I do feel more versatile and agile."