Foot injury has Anderson's status for season with Bengals in limbo
Four-time Pro Bowl right offensive tackle Willie Anderson, who has been unable to work at all in the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp because of a right foot injury, acknowledged on Thursday that he is concerned he may not be ready for the season opener, and he could miss prolonged playing time in 2007.
A fixture on the Cincinnati offensive line since joining the Bengals as a first-round choice in the 1996 draft, Anderson returned to the club on Thursday following a week spent seeking a series of second opinions, and after a mysterious procedure on the injured foot.
Anderson did not undergo surgery, but rather had some manner of electroshock therapy by a specialist in Atlanta, designed to promote healing. The 11-year veteran, who arrived at the Bengals' combined practice session with the New Orleans Saints with his foot encased in a protective walking boot, said he was told the procedure has a 60 percent chance of success.
"This procedure either works," Anderson told the Cincinnati-area media, "or bad news comes out. ... I'll know in several weeks."
Coach Marvin Lewis, who suggested that Anderson solicit second opinions on what had become an injury showing little sign of progress, told ESPN.com on Sunday that the right tackle was being fitted for an orthotic device to help ease the pain. Clearly, however, the procedure that Anderson underwent was far more substantial.
Compounding the problem for Cincinnati is that its other starting tackle, Levi Jones, also has not practiced at all in camp as he rehabilitates from left knee surgery. Jones, who was limited to five starts in 2006, has said he is close to returning to practice.
How soon Anderson can return, though, appears uncertain after Thursday's revelation of the procedure on his foot.
The Bengals have used second-year veteran Andrew Whitworth, who started 12 games as a rookie in 2006, at Jones' left tackle spot. Scott Kooistra, a four-year veteran with one career start, has taken Anderson's place on the right side, and has enjoyed an outstanding training camp. But the absences of Anderson and Jones have strained the depth of a Cincinnati line that already was slated to have two new starters in 2007 after several years of stability.
If Anderson is unable to begin the season, and certainly if he misses substantial time, it will be a setback for the high-powered Cincinnati offense. Missing the season opener would snap a streak of 112 straight starts.
Anderson, 32, injured the foot in a Dec. 18 game at Indianapolis, a contest in which he was sidelined for the final three quarters. The injury also limited the amount of sessions in which he could participate in the Bengals' offseason program. At the outset of camp the plan was to rest Anderson and hope to have him ready for the final preseason game. But that scenario might now be overly optimistic.
"By not knowing exactly what it was, I'm afraid I've done further damage to it during the offseason," Anderson said. "I kept playing with it, kept doing things to keep going out there and playing."
One of the NFL's best strongside tackles, Anderson largely labored in obscurity until the Cincinnati offense got into high gear over the past few seasons. The improvement in the offense cast more light on Anderson's solid body of work and he became a regular in the Pro Bowl game. He has also been named the top right tackle on the Associated Press All-Pro team each of the past three seasons.
A former Auburn star, Anderson has started every game for the Bengals at right tackle since 2000. Of his 174 appearances, all but six have been as a starter, and he has missed just two games in his career, both in 1999, when he had an ankle injury.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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