Earlier this offseason, Andrew Whitworth announced he was having a procedure on his knee to clean up scar tissue. He said that the issue had been bothering him for the past two years, which is not a shocking development.
Before the 2012 season began, Whitworth discussed using yoga as a way to help rehabilitate his bothersome knee. He claimed it had helped, but it appeared that he was physically limited compared to before his knee issues.
While chronic knee problems are never a good sign for a football player on the wrong side of thirty, but electing to have the surgery is at least a good sign towards recovery. As they say, admitting the problem is the first step.
But since Big Whit has long been a personal favorite of mine, I decided to compare performances from 2012 to those in 2009, before the injury issues arose and Whitworth was arguably playing at the highest level in the league. Just to make sure that fond memories of the lovable big man on Hard Knocks whose wife packed his gigantic, foul-smelling cleats and who was ejected from a game for going after John Henderson when he tried to use Whit’s eyes like bowling ball holes were not building a legend in my mind.
And, as they say, the tape does not lie. While it may be time to begin to think about grooming a replacement for Whitworth, much like Whitworth was groomed to replace Levi Jones, the knee procedure will hopefully have him playing more at the 2009 level than the 2012, in which he used his exemplary technique and veteran guise to win more than he did physical ability. Here are a few side-by-side comparisons of the two years.
In this season’s Wild Card playoff loss to the Houston Texans, Whit is shown here pass blocking against Cincinnati product Connor Barwin. Due to Whitworth’s limited mobility, Barwin has used his speed to begin to turn the corner on Whitworth. Whitworth has bent at the waist in order to lunge at Barwin, which takes away any leverage that he has when using his powerful hands to control Barwin.
Luckily it was a three-step drop on a quick slant, so Whitworth was smart in that he did enough to keep Andy Dalton clean, but this is an illustration of how his bum right knee affected him against speed rushers.
On the next play, a third and ten, the Texans’ Wade Phillips calls a stunt with Barwin and defensive end Antonio Smith. This was a smart call to exploit Whitworth, knowing that he would be looking to protect himself against Barwin’s speed. What Phillips did not count on is Whitworth’s football IQ.
Barwin takes a jab step like he is rushing outside, but then tries to dart behind Smith to take advantage of the blocking scheme that has guard Clint Boling locked onto Smith and protection slid to the right to account for J.J. Watt. But as soon as Whitworth sees that Barwin is cutting inside, he immediately moves to pick up Smith so Boling can block Barwin.
Plays like this are why the Bengals were able to overcome left guard Travelle Wharton’s season-ending injury and why Whitworth was able to make the Pro Bowl despite his physical limitations.