Sunday, August 27, 2000

Win or lose, stick with Akili

        Halfway through the third quarter Friday night, Bengals behind 14-7, I gave myself a multiple-choice test. Given an option at this very moment, would I:

        (A) continue to watch the unfortunate scrum before me;

        (B) open an acid tap on my face;

        (C) practice my flying from the upper deck, or

        (D) extract my bicuspids with a monkey wrench.

  Click on the right width for your monitor, then right click to Set As Wallpaper:
(Ernest Coleman photos)
Akili Smith TD
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Peter Warrick
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Neil Rackers
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Oliver Gibson
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img Tremain Mack
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Peter Warrick
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Corey Dillon
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        I couldn't find the wrench. But at least it gave me something to do.

        The biggest sham in sports is paying full fare for a ride on the irrelevant express that is exhibition football. After the first two series of the first quarter, there was nothing to watch but abject misery, monumental incompetence and millions of bugs dying in the lights.

        But oh, what a first two series.

        That would be when Akili Smith played. When Smith wasn't throwing 53 yards to Peter Warrick, he was boot-legging 3 yards into the end zone. When he wasn't checking down to a secondary receiver, he was avoiding a sack by smartly throwing an uncatchable ball into the turf or scrambling for a first down.

        The kid has it.

        Work ethic. Confidence. A growing presence. A feel for the position that no one save Boomer Esiason has had here in a decade.

        “I've been making plays,” Smith said. “I'm going to continue making plays. I'm right where I want to be.”

Let him learn
        He comes with a warning, though. All young QBs do. They aren't allowed to ripen on the vine. They're drafted by bad teams, tapped as saviors, start immediately and get themselves killed. Smith's no different. So here's the warning:

        Leave him alone. Don't mess with his head. Don't turn on him, even when it seems like a good idea. And it will, at some point sooner than later, seem like a good idea.

        No banners asking for Scott Mitchell. No talk-show referendums on who should start. Please, Mike Brown, exercise your formidable patience on your quarterback. Don't Jeff Blake him. Please, Bruce Coslet, no notions of replacing Smith for a series or two in the middle of a game, should the kid be struggling. “That's always an option,” Coslet said Friday night.

        No. Let Smith struggle. Let him go cross-eyed trying to decode disguised blitzes. Let him be blind-sided and sandwiched. Let him experience the game moving so fast he'll ask for Dramamine on the sideline.

        Because he's all you have. Short term, there's nothing to lose but another game, and given the local history, what's one loss? If losing ever corrodes this kid's confidence, there really is no hope here. As John Copeland, the Bengals' eldest statesman, put it: “He's the guy. Everybody knows it. He has to do it. It isn't a question of if he can do it. He has to.”

He's the only hope
        Between 1991 and 1999, when they were 43-101, the Bengals wandered the wilderness searching for a quarterback. You could count the number of memorable QB games on the laces of one football. There isn't an alphabet big enough to catalog the sins of this franchise. But right at the top are the letters Q and B. The Bengals haven't acquired a good one or developed a young one. Without stability at quarterback, nothing else works.

        Stick with Smith, lose or lose. He's all you have. He may not be the savior, and heaven help this team if he's not. But at least let him find out.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at (513) 768-8454.

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