IRVINE, Calif. — Although Andrew Whitworth had spent his entire 11-year NFL career in Cincinnati, the left tackle and his wife didn’t even wait until the school year ended to move their four kids to the Los Angeles suburbs when the Rams called.
Cincinnati was great, but it was never home — and neither is LA. Andrew and Melissa Whitworth are both native Louisianans, and they’ll eventually head back there to live among their extended family.
Until then, the new 35-year-old cornerstone of the Rams’ offensive line will focus on protecting Jared Goff’s blind side while his family enjoys a California adventure.
“We loved Cincinnati … but I think it was hard for Cincinnati people to understand that we were always leaving there, one way or the other,” the three-time Pro Bowl selection said after training camp practice with his new team at UC Irvine.
“So (Los Angeles) was just another adventure along the way, as we saw it. We can never have a regret about taking this opportunity to go do something that very few people ever get a chance to do. … It’s just something I think my kids, one day long when I’m gone, will be able to say, ‘Man, what a cool experience that was.'”
Hopefully Whitworth will be able to say the same. He is the Rams’ biggest offseason acquisition following their 4-12 return to Los Angeles, and this team badly needs his help.
Left tackle loomed as the franchise’s greatest area of need after the struggles of Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014. With the incentive of a three-year, $36 million contract, Whitworth accepted the challenge of moving his family cross-county, learning a new scheme and becoming a leader on an offense that finished dead last in the NFL in each of the past two seasons.
“I love challenges,” Whitworth said. “I love opportunities to do something I’m not supposed to be able to do. Hell, that’s my career. If you went and found my draft bio, I wasn’t supposed to play left tackle, and I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to play it for 12 years. The reality is I love that kind of stuff. It’s made for me.”
Whitworth isn’t worried about learning his assignments under head coach Sean McVay, the former Redskins assistant who runs a scheme similar to Jay Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati. Even in his 12th NFL season, he embraces the chance to work on new techniques from offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
“He is the epitome of a pro’s pro,” McVay said. “Doing the little things the right way all the time. A great example in terms of just playing the techniques, the fundamentals. I think it has been encouraging to see a guy that has had the level of success that he has had in Cincinnati, and then asking him to do a couple of things differently, and how willing he has been to buy in to those techniques. But he has been everything and more, and this is what I tell people: He is like a fine wine. He is just getting better with age.”
There is evidence to back up McVay’s flattery: Whitworth was a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons after getting just one previous nod in his entire career.
Whitworth also isn’t thrown off by the fact that he is four years older than the 31-year-old McVay. The lineman realizes that if you stay in the league long enough, that’s just what happens.
“As my wife says, most of her friends are coaches’ wives, because she’s so much older than all the players’ wives and girlfriends,” Whitworth said with a grin.
The Rams intend to preserve their oldest player’s health this season. Whitworth was among several veterans who got the day off Monday before Los Angeles’ first workout in pads Tuesday.
They’re counting on a sturdy season from Whitworth, whose experience has made him a valuable resource for McVay and his staff. When Rams general manager Les Snead was asked to name the newcomers most likely to become leaders this season, he answered quickly.
“I will always go to Big Whit,” Snead said. “He’s someone that has been in the league and played a long time, knows how to play a long time, has been a part of helping groom a young QB and helping groom a young set of skill players, even though he plays offensive line.”