Moving positions is always a tough ask in the NFL. Things are so specialized that being asked to come out of your comfort zone even a little bit often results in a drop in performance. Even an entire off-season working on the change can sometimes not be enough to prevent a drop-off. Imagine then being asked to make the move mid-way through a game?
That’s what happened to Andrew Whitworth in 2013. After nine games playing left tackle Whitworth was forced to kick inside during the San Diego game just five snaps into it when Clint Boling went down hurt. Whitworth didn’t just avoid a significant drop in performance but had his best game to that point without skipping a beat.
Being able to play multiple positions well is a dream in the NFL, and Whitworth was playing at a Pro-Bowl level at both spots he was asked to play by the Bengals this season. As a left tackle Whitworth is an impressive student of the game, relying on impressive technique and footwork to protect his quarterback as one of the better blindside players in the league. When he kicked inside to guard he was allowed to take on a much more nasty streak, physically dominating players at the point of attack and grinding them into the ground.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Whitworth was a capable player at guard, having been originally drafted at that position and slated to play there for the Bengals. The surprise should be that he was able to play left tackle to such a high standard in the first place, overcoming whatever perceived deficiencies he had athletically with technique and intelligence.
Whitworth was one of the best linemen in football last season, and the fact that he was able to do that after being asked to kick inside and change positions in the middle of the season is all the more impressive.
Best Game: Week 14 vs. Indianapolis (+5.7)
It was after five snaps of the San Diego game that Whitworth was forced to change position and there is a good argument that his +5.0 in that game was his most impressive grade, but the very next performance saw his highest grade of the season.
Against the Colts he was perfect in pass protection and punishing on the ground, opening up holes for the Bengals runners to notch 155 yards at 4.8 per carry.
Take this run for almost 20 yards by Giovanni Bernard. Watch Whitworth just manhandle the 3-technique, tossing him to the side to open a yawning chasm for the run to hit. This is what he was able to do inside at guard that he couldn’t necessarily get away with at tackle; bring a meaner streak to his play.
Key Stat: Earned a Top-20 grade at two different O-line positions
Even ignoring the difficulty of the transition, Whitworth was playing sufficiently well in 2013 to earn a top-20 grade at two different spots on the line despite playing only part of a season at each. His grade combined would see him threatening the lead at either spot.
We hear talk all the time about players that can play multiple spots along the line. That usually means guys who aren’t good enough to nail down any one spot, because there is a clear hierarchy among the positions. The reason it keeps being brought up though is that players that can actually play multiple spots to a high level become incredibly valuable because they enable a team to shrug off an injury and move players around without experiencing any dip in production.
The loss of Boling could have been a major issue to another offensive line, but Whitworth’s prowess at guard allowed them to simply plug him in without dramatic consequences. If anything the Bengals line after that change experienced a net improvement with Collins coming in.
It can’t be overstated how impressive Whitworth’s performance was in 2013, and he rightfully finds a spot inside the top ten of this list, coming in at No. 9 in the PFF Top 101.
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