Anderson Not Fazed by Pace Talk

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Recently, there was widespread speculation surrounding the status of right tackle Willie Anderson and his future in Baltimore when the Ravens pursued Orlando Pace via free agency.

But with Pace having signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears, Anderson can breathe a little easier.

It's not as if the 14-year veteran was sweating, though. Even though he enjoyed a standout career with the Cincinnati Bengals, with whom he went to four Pro Bowls, Anderson has always fought for his job.

Regularly, he succeeded.

That is why Anderson can only shake his head and chuckle when others doubt his performance.

"To me, I played at my top level," Anderson said. "I read a reporter that wrote that me and [left tackle] Jared Gaither had too much help [from an extra blocker, such as a tight end]. Are you kidding me?

"Seeing that and hearing that, it only gives me motivation. You have to find that, I think, when you're a lineman. It's all about showing people. I had to do it all the time in Cincinnati, even when I made the Pro Bowl."

Anderson, 34, said he understands why the Ravens would want to bring in a seven-time Pro Bowler like Pace.

He thinks some within the organization wondered if he was going to retire after finishing the year with several minor injuries.

"In the AFC Championship, I actually played the whole second half with a hamstring strain and an MCL sprain," Anderson said. "It was on the touchdown drive before halftime, and it was about six or seven weeks when I couldn't walk. I've just been getting back to working out about a month and a half ago."

In addition, Anderson noted that he wasn't a personal draft pick of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Coincidentally, the Mobile, Ala., native was originally selected 10th overall in the 1996 draft, six spots after Newsome tabbed left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"I'm sure there were questions around the building," stated Anderson, who spent some time earlier this year with family in Atlanta and running his two Fatburger restaurants. "Some coaches said they heard I was going to retire. And, the Ravens didn't draft me. I'm not their pick, and coaches can be territorial with the guys they draft. I understand that. I've been in the league 14 years, so can't cry about it."

The Ravens even went so far as to offer Pace a contract (reported to be for three years), but he eventually chose Chicago because of his familiarity with Bears coach Lovie Smith and a promise that he would remain at left tackle.

Now, Anderson is working once again to fend off other challengers to his starting spot. Baltimore's coaches believe the thoughtful veteran is valuable not only for his on-field performance, but also for the example he sets for a very young offensive line.

"Willie's been great for the level of play he's given us," said assistant offensive line coach Andy Moeller. "But he's been great in the meeting room for us, too, being a leader for our young guys."

Some of those youthful contenders include Adam Terry, in his fifth year, and Oniel Cousins, a 2008 draft pick. The Ravens could also address the position in the early rounds of the upcoming draft.

And while that battle is a very familiar feeling for Anderson, this is actually an odd offseason for him.

Through his entire professional life, Anderson had never spent an offseason with another team besides the Bengals. Last year, he was signed mere days before the regular-season opener, joining Baltimore on Sept. 5.

Participating in the Ravens' offseason conditioning program last week, Anderson wants to demonstrate to head coach John Harbaugh that he is committed to playing at an elite level.

"I want to let coach Harbaugh see that I will do what I have to [in order to] be ready for the season," he explained. "The coaches and management here don't know me, really. This is my first year preparing for the season in a Ravens uniform."

With a full year as a Raven under his prodigious purple jersey, Anderson will be in a better position that what he was in when he first arrived.

"I still have a goal that I'm not a fill-in guy," he stated. "I never have been and don't plan on being one here. If I had played the season with the Bengals, I was ready to have a great year. To come in here and learn a new system, learn my coaches and teammates, staying in a hotel for two months, things like that, it's tough.

"I still think I had a solid season, but the question was what I was going to do in the future."

The answer? Anderson is not stopping any time soon.

"I told the coaches the other day that I'll stop when I can't move my feet, protect my quarterback and open up a little room for my running back," said Anderson. "That's when I'll retire."

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