Sunday, August 29, 1999

Smith makes pro debut

Top pick plays one possession

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Akili Smith throws a pass in the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills.
(Saed Hindash photo)
| ZOOM |
        Akili Smith restored Bengals fans' roar, if only for about 30 seconds.

        The team's No.1 draft choice drew huge cheers as he made his first NFL appearance at quarterback Saturday night, just four days after banking a $10.8 million signing bonus on a long-term contract that could pay him $56 million.

        His night: One series, 1-for-2 passing for 5 yards in a second-quarter cameo.


        “The speed of the game was definitely a lot quicker than college football,” Smith said. “I can understand why (coach) Bruce (Coslet) was saying, "Quicker, quicker, quicker,' all throughout practice last week.”

        Coslet, naturally, was amused by all the buzz. He was asked if Smith would see more snaps next week.

        “Oh, probably,” Coslet replied. “He will be with us another week. ... We got him into the game and we wanted to do that. There were no false starts and no fumbles from scrimmage. He didn't do anything spectacular, and I was just pleased to get him in and get him out of there.”

        Smith started warming up midway through the second period and entered the game with 5:36 left before halftime. Many Cinergy Field patrons stood, and nearly all cheered loudly as Smith jogged onto the field to relieve starter Jeff Blake.

        “I wasn't nervous at all,” Smith said. “I was kind of relaxed out there, anticipating that I was going in.”

        Smith had most of the first-team offense with him, as Coslet had promised. But Smith's one and only series of the night was memorable solely for the fact that he and his No.11 jersey were finally on the field.

        He took over with the ball on the Bengals' 46-yard line, and it went like this:

        • First play, hands off cleanly to Ki-Jana Carter for no gain, as tight end Marco Battaglia is penalized for holding. (1st and 20, ball at Bengals 36).

        • Second play, a short pass to the right sideline, intended for wideout Willie Jackson, is knocked away as Smith is slow to unload the ball. (2nd and 20).

        • Third play, a draw to Carter, gains 3 yards. (3rd and 17 at Bengals 39). After the play, Smith kneels down to re-tie one of his shoes.

        • Fourth play, a short, safe pass to fullback Brian Milne gains 5 yards. (4th and 12, time to punt).

        And that was it.

        Blake, whose job Smith is expected to take within a year or so, said it was unfair to judge Smith's game Saturday.

        “You can't evaluate what he did,” Blake said. “You can't evaluate anyone on three plays. He didn't have an opportunity to do anything.”


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