Willie Returns to Cincy

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When the Cincinnati Bengals released Willie Anderson after 12 years of service, they didn't think the four-time Pro Bowler had it any more.

The Ravens are happy with that assessment.

Anderson's contract was terminated just before the 2008 campaign began, and Baltimore wasted no time to snap him up.

Originally, the 6-foot-5, 340-pound right tackle was brought in to provide some veteran leadership, which he provided in spades. But, when Adam Terry went down in Week 5 due to an ankle injury, Anderson stepped into the starting lineup.

"Big Willie" must have something left in the tank, because he hasn't relinquished the position yet.

"He's done a great job with leadership, no question," said Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh. "With a young offensive line, Willie has schooled those guys up – not just on technique, but on work ethic and taking care of themselves.

"But, he's also a very good player. I'm sure glad we have him, with the injuries that we've had to our tackles. Just [because of] the fact that he's such a good football player and has played so well, he's been a huge addition to our team."

And the feeling is mutual.

Days before his first return to Paul Brown Stadium as a visitor, Anderson admits that the situation surrounding his departure from Cincinnati didn't sit well with him.

After 181 career games of service, he was asked to restructure his contract for much less money, or else face being cut.

Part of it had to do with knee and foot injuries that limited him to only seven games last year. Anderson had started 116 consecutive contests before he was originally hurt on Oct. 14, 2007, but he said bad information circulated to the front office regarding his ability to play.

"It kind of startled me a little bit because it happened quick," Anderson said Wednesday. "I went down to Atlanta to get some more orthotics made, and they called me and said you've got to make a decision today. I was like, what? It kind of happened fast, but my thing was that the information they were given about me was wrong.

"I felt that I was hoping they might have given me a chance to prove myself to prove to them that the information that was given to management and coaches was wrong - that I still can play. Don't compare me to myself where I was five years ago. Compare me to the guy that I'm competing with. That didn't happen."

Anderson's decision as to where he would sign came down to the Ravens or San Diego Chargers. In the end, Anderson opted to stay within the division, which turned out to be a prophetic choice.

San Diego, a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, is 4-7, and the Bengals are mired in a 1-9-1 campaign, while Baltimore is just one game out of first place in the AFC North.

"Just the mentality and the tradition of the way the players are treated here and when they're gone, the way they play, the way they carry themselves… I wanted to be a part of that," Anderson said. "And something just told me – and of course, [John] Harbaugh came here and improved on that – that this team would be a lot different than it was last season.

"I felt strongly [about] coach Harbaugh, and I felt strongly [about] the tradition this place was, how it was and the players that they had here, and I wanted to be a part of it."

Admittedly, it took Anderson some time to settle into his new situation. The quiet veteran was joining a line where the most senior member of the starting five was 26 years old and a locker room that he regularly competed against.

And, there was a demanding offensive line coach, John Matsko, with whom Anderson had never worked.

"To me, there was a big part of me trying to come here and fit in because they had spent so much time in the offseason, so much time in the winter, spring, training camp, building their bonds, learning [about] each other," Anderson stated. "Then, here comes a 13-year [veteran], a 33-year old guy who some team said was done. So I had to prove myself to coach Matsko, and once he saw I still could play and had the attitude of showing him that I wanted to practice and show these guys how to be a professional, [our] relationship grew a lot more.

"Now, he looks at me as just an extended version of him and trying to show guys how to play right, how to practice right."

Looking past Anderson's gritty six starts for the Ravens, the past few coming on a badly sprained left ankle, the tackle's worth is much greater than his on-field exploits.

"He brings that veteran leadership to a very good young line," wideout Derrick Mason explained. "He brings some stability of a guy that has played in a lot of hard-fought battles. We just have another vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball, and that always helps."

When Anderson does walk to the visiting locker room this weekend, he expects to feel some "rush of emotion" at some point, but it will all be in the past once he lines up in purple and black.

Anderson doesn't need to make any verbal statement to his former employer. He'll let his play do the talking.

"They said I can't play no more, so I'm good," Anderson said with a smile. "And me going out to California, they'd probably never have seen me play. Now, they get a chance to see me play twice a year."

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