Andrew Whitworth to Bengals: draft an OT at your risk

BRISTOL, Conn. -- If his body continues to hold up the way it has the past two seasons, Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth plans to play into his 40s or at least close to it.

Of course, he can't actually see that far into the future, but he has a good feeling about the longevity of his career.

On the heels of perhaps the best of his nine seasons with the Bengals, the 33-year-old Whitworth told reporters during voluntary team workouts in Cincinnati on Monday that he didn't foresee ending his career anytime soon. He half-jokingly offered a warning to those in the Bengals' front office: draft an offensive tackle Thursday at your own risk.

"Mess up and draft somebody at my position, because you are going to sit around and watch him sit the bench," Whitworth said.

For most of the offseason, mock drafts have had the Bengals selecting an offensive tackle with their first-round pick at No. 21. La'el Collins, a versatile lineman who could play guard and tackle, has been a possibility. An LSU product just like Whitworth, Collins seems like a natural fit for a young player who could come in and be mentored by the veteran in much the same way former Bengal Willie Anderson helped guide Whitworth when he first arrived.

Ereck Flowers, an overtly competitive right tackle who played at Miami (Florida) also has been considered a first-round option. The team appears interested in him, just as it's interested in Oregon's Jake Fisher and Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi.

The logic behind the Bengals drafting an offensive tackle is tied to free agency. After this season, both Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith will be eligible for it. Whitworth's age also is a factor, making it likely the Bengals pick a player early who could take his place within the next three seasons.

"I see it as a challenge," Whitworth said about the Bengals drafting a tackle. "That's why I always show up in the best shape possible. That's why I always come here lean and ready to go.

"When I came into the league all they said was NFL stands for 'Not For Long' and I've always taken that as a challenge. Not one year -- my wife will tell you -- do I ever feel like I'm going to make the team. That's my mentality: that I have to go earn a roster spot."

During his session with reporters, Whitworth, again half-jokingly, reiterated his message about drafting a tackle to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who poked his head into the interview.

Jackson's response? "I like that. I love that about him."

Fully healthy for the first time in several seasons, Whitworth felt physically as good as he ever has for a full year in 2014. It showed. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn't allow a sack and gave up just 10 quarterback pressures all last season.

As much as he believes he personally can still compete at a high level, Whitworth also wants to win. He's been to the playoffs five times in his career and has yet to know what it feels like to win a postseason game.

"I want them to bring in anybody that makes our team better. I don't care if it's my spot or not," Whitworth said. "Truth is, eventually they have to find a young guy that one day can be at that position barring injury and those things. I understand that part, and any kid that comes here with the hunger to be good, I want him in this locker room."