CINCINNATI — Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith could see what’s next when the Bengals took offensive tackles with their first two picks in the draft. For now, they’re dug in as the starters, refusing to give the team a reason to replace them.
Starting left tackle Whitworth is preparing for his 10th season. When he came to camp as a rookie in 2008, the Bengals had Levi Jones and Willie Anderson as their starting tackles. Jones was gone after that season. Anderson was released at the end of camp.
Now, he’s on the other side of a coming change.
Whitworth is one of 29 Bengals players who are in the final year of their contracts, including 23 who can become unrestricted free agents. That includes Smith, the right tackle who is getting ready for his seventh season.
The Bengals took tackles Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M and Oregon’s Jake Fisher with their first two draft picks. Ogbuehi is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Fisher is being worked into a backup spot. By next season, one or both could be starting.
“To me there are a couple of ways of handling that,” Whitworth said on Tuesday before practice. “You go through something like this and you don’t enjoy it, you don’t want to be in the situation.
“But the truth is you can either worry about it, you can complain about it, or you can be in the best shape you’ve ever been in and expect to play the best football you’ve ever played and see how it unfolds. The latter is what I chose to do.”
Whitworth is coming off a season in which he played all 16 games for the seventh time in his career. He has missed only eight games in his career, only two since the start of the 2009 season.
Smith weighs less than 320 pounds this camp. He said he played at 345 last season before suffering a torn triceps in late November at Houston.
“I rededicated myself to football, being a pro,” Smith said. “It’s not getting out of shape, but staying in shape all of the time, so when it gets time to really get in shape, it’s not that hard.
“I just want to be the best at what I do. That’s my motivation. I’m tired of being mediocre.”
Veteran Eric Winston — signed after Smith was hurt last season — and the rookies provide the Bengals with an abundance of depth at the position. Fisher is getting a lot of time in practice as Whitworth’s backup.
Whitworth and Smith are getting the rookies ready to move into bigger roles eventually.
“Like I said, every guy in this locker room that’s going to be a free agent needs to focus on one thing, and that’s on playing the best football they can possibly play,” Whitworth said. “And things will work out in their best interest if they do that.”
Notes: DT Margus Hunt was cleared to practice on Tuesday. He’d been sidelined by a back injury. Although he wasn’t in pads along with the rest of the team, he considered it an encouraging step. “I expected this process to take longer, to be honest, but we’ve been working hard and I’ve been doing everything that’s required by rehab,” Hunt said. … CB Dre Kirkpatrick knocked away a pair of passes in the end zone during goal line drills on Tuesday. He also picked off one of Andy Dalton’s passes to A.J. Green. … WR Marvin Jones worked out on a side field for the second day in a row.
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