Thursday, August 26, 1999

Smith may play Saturday

Rookie gets extra work

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Just because quarterback Akili Smith has signed his breathtaking contract and conducted his sorry-I'm-late press conference, Bengals fans should not assume they've seen the last of him for a while.

        Ol' No.11 might even be out there against the Buffalo Bills this weekend.

        “Maybe,” Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said. “The situation has to be right, though. I refuse to put him in there to fail. I'm not going to put him in there if Mike Doughty is playing left tackle and Bruce Smith is still in the game.”

        The Bengals' preseason game against Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Cinergy Field will be their third of four and comes a mere five days after Smith first stepped onto the practice field. So time is short to prepare him, but time also is running out before the games start to count.

        If Coslet can find a means of getting Smith onto the field against the Bills “where he'll have a chance to succeed, and a good chance,” it will happen.

        “The situation has to be right, and he'll obviously have a limited playlist to select from,” Coslet said, adding his decision “won't even be made at gametime. It will be made when I put him in or not put him in.”

        The No.3 overall choice in the NFL draft, Smith made a case for himself with a sharp afternoon Wednesday. Through his first couple of practices, Smith contented his coaches by getting his unit into the proper formations, calling the signals correctly and handling the ball cleanly with snaps and handoffs.

        On the first snap of his third practice, Smith showed off his footwork and agility, picking his way through pass-rushers coming from either side. In a drill against only pass

        coverage, Smith appeared mechanical as he read through his progressions on two plays but each time found a receiver and delivered the ball.

        He ran 10 plays against the full defense, six of them rushing calls. All four passes were completed, including an impressive throw on an out pattern to wideout Willie Jackson.

        “It got a little better,” Smith said. “The more reps I get, the better and better I feel. The No.1 thing I'm seeing right now is that the D-line- men are extremely fast. You've got to go back, plant your foot and get ready to throw an accurate ball.

        “Bruce has been on me, (offensive coordinator) Ken (Anderson) has been on me — "Quicker, quicker, quicker!' They're screaming it.”

        Smith spent some time with the Bengals in the spring but then missed the first 27 practices of training camp during his contract holdout. He is being required to make up for as much of that time as possible.

        When the other players are resting in their dorm rooms between meetings and workouts, Smith is having individual tutoring sessions with Anderson. Smith is asked to present himself on the practice field a half-hour before the rest of the team.

        “If you put him out there too early,” Coslet said, “he's going to get too much throwing and then he's going to have a sore arm and a sore rotator cuff and everything. So you can only do so much.

        “We're going to do everything we can and all that he can stand physically and mentally to push him along. You push him as far as you think you can push him, but you can't cross that line. But he's going to be pushed, believe me. He's in good shape, so he can stand it physically. But if you start giving him 250-300 throws a day, it isn't going to hold up.”

        Some of the practice snaps that formerly went to quarterbacks Scott Covington and Eric Kresser now are going to starter Jeff Blake and to Smith.


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