While the Cincinnati Bengals continue to sort through issues at left tackle, they also face the reminder of what could have been.
The Bengals let Andrew Whitworth walk as a free agent in 2017, and this week’s opponent has been the benefactor of that the past two-plus seasons. He’s served a key cog in the Los Angeles Rams’ offense and locker room, earning All-Pro recognition that first season and helping them to the Super Bowl last year.
Now Whitworth, at age 37, will be showing the Bengals exactly what they gave up when they decided to invest in their young draft picks instead of rewarding him for his consistency and leadership over the years. The Rams (4-3) play the Bengals (0-7) on Sunday in London, and it will be Whitworth’s first matchup against his old team.
“I think he’s a phenomenal talent and a special football player, but he’s an even more special human being,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday during a conference call with local media. “You guys asked me about the culture earlier, and I would argue he’s as responsible as anybody in this building for helping to establish and develop a culture, showing guys. I think it’s really powerful when you just say, ‘Hey, watch the way this guy works.’ And then, the empathy this guy has for human beings in terms of putting his arm around guys and helping them develop. He’s been invaluable.”
The Bengals selected Whitworth in the second round of the 2006 draft, and he played 168 games with 164 starts over 11 seasons in Cincinnati. In eight of those seasons, he started every game.
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Since his departure, the left tackle spot has been more like a revolving door. The team’s top two draft picks in 2015, tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, never panned out for the Bengals and moved on this offseason. Cincinnati acquired Cordy Glenn from Buffalo during the 2018 offseason, then drafted Jonah Williams in the first round this year with plans to play him at left tackle and move Glenn to left guard, where there also was a hole.
Williams suffered a shoulder injury during the last week of Organized Team Activities, and Glenn hasn’t played a game since suffering a concussion in an Aug. 15 preseason game. Last week, he returned to practice only to end up suspended for a game because of an internal discipline issue, and the team has him practicing with the scout team this week in his return.
“He had his suspension (last) weekend, and right now he’s part of the roster,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “We’ll just take it day-to-day with him. He’s coming back eager to practice, and we’ll see what he looks like in practice.”
Glenn told reporters Thursday — in his first interview since going into concussion protocol – that he didn’t want to discuss the details of his concussion or the recovery process, but he is still working back into football shape after an extended absence. He wasn’t surprised to end up on scout team offense because of the uncertainty about whether he will be ready to play Sunday.
Regarding the suspension, Glenn said he and Taylor are trying to move past that.
“Last week just happened,” Glenn said. “… Anytime you’re hurt, you want to be out there with your team to help out the team.”
Glenn may still have to earn back the trust of his teammates and coaches, though, after a reported argument between Glenn and a member of the coaching staff last week before his suspension. However, it seems Taylor is at least willing to give him a second chance, otherwise he might not have brought him back to the 53-man roster.
“With all of our players, we want them to operate within the culture we’re setting forth,” Taylor said. “We communicate with every player on this team daily of the things that we want. So, we’re looking forward to getting back to practice.”
In the meantime, Andre Smith is still working back from an ankle injury so if he and Glenn aren’t ready, fourth-string tackle John Jerry remains the starter Sunday while the Rams have the comfort of being able to rely on a guy like Whitworth, who McVay said is “a rare football talent” to be able to sustain such a high level of play for so long.
It’s clear how much he is missed in Cincinnati.
“He meant so much to this team and this organization,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “He had a great career here, not only with what he did within the organization, but with what he did in the community. Whit was a guy that had an unbelievable time here in Cincinnati.”
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