CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals picked tackles in the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft, it was widely assumed a succession plan was in place and the club was moving on from Andrew Whitworth.
That didn't quite work out.
The club signed Whitworth to a one-year, $9 million deal to bring him back this year. Based on the results, the Bengals would be wise to do the same thing this offseason.
Whitworth, who turns 35 on Monday, is playing up to his own high standards again. And neither Cedric Ogbuehi nor Jake Fisher, the one-two picks in '15, has established himself as a solid NFL tackle.
Whitworth, on the other hand, is rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 2 tackle in the league at 89.0 on a 100-point scale. Only Trent Williams, Washington's suspended left tackle, is rated higher (91.5).
"I don't know what cup (Whitworth's) drinking from, but I want some of it," offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. "He's having a terrific year. He seems to get better every year. It's crazy. He's got the technical part of the game down."
Former Bengals offensive lineman and current radio analyst Dave Lapham says technique and demeanor set Whitworth apart.
"He's got it down to a science," Lapham said, "his football geometry, angles. The thing that strikes me about him is how calm he is. When everything is going crazy everywhere else, he's just calm and composed and doing what he's supposed to do."
Whitworth's response to the rating and the praise?
"I don't think you ever feel good when your team is not having the success you want. That's the only thing I care about. It's good to play well. It's good to be able to continue to shut people out every week. But the reality is, at this point, the only thing you care about is team."
If the Bengals care about winning for 2017, they'll bring Whitworth back. Besides being the highest-rated Bengal by PFF, he's a locker room leader and an example to Ogbuehi and Fisher.
"Every practice, we look at the film, I say, 'Cedric, Fisher, just do it like that. Would you do it like that?' " Alexander said.
They're learning what Whitworth learned a long time ago.
"You don't get by in the NFL on talent," he said. "You've got to do everything you can in the offseason to get better."
The only year Whitworth was rated below average by PFF was his first year, 2006. PFF had Whitworth at 68.5.
Once Whitworth learned the league, he has been remarkably consistent. He's rated "high quality" or "elite" the last seven years. But he's gotten better with age. He's been named All-Pro the last two years.
"He didn't walk in and was a star right away," Alexander said. "But he is now. He's the best pass blocker in football. There's no question."
All NFL linemen are huge men, but Whitworth is big by even tackle standards. He's 6-foot-7, 330 pounds and fairly lean.
"The thing about him is his upper trunk is so long," Lapham said. "He can set up a little different horizontal and vertical split because of his body structure. He understands his football geometry and how it all applies to him better than anybody.
"He's a massive man. It's like trying to run around a condo. He does a great job of not letting people run right through him. They have to figure out a way to work around him and he's long. He's got range. He's got size. He's got everything. He's gifted."
Alexander, of course, would like Whitworth back for 2017. He was asked if he has lobbied the people on the top floor of Paul Brown Stadium -- Mike Brown, in other words. He hasn't.
"I think they probably watch the games," he said.
Alexander thinks Whitworth can continue to play at this high level.
"He does it because he takes care of himself and there's no wasted motion," Alexander said. "Wasted motion against a quick guy and you're dead. But he's so balanced and technical … If you do it right, no one can get by you."
Again, the Bengals would be wise to keep a guy like that around for '17.