Sunday, September 29, 2002
Bengals pass Bucs to Akili
Smith wants to 'get things rolling' vs. Bucs
By Mark Curnutte email@example.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Just about everything that could have gone wrong early in Akili Smith's NFL career did.
Some mistakes - such as the contract holdout that wiped out his 1999 rookie training camp - were his, he says. He started out behind.
Many errors were not his. Think of how not to develop a young quarterback, and that's exactly what the Bengals did. That was then.
This is now.
Smith is not so young any more. He turned 27 in August. What he has learned in his first three-plus NFL seasons will be on display today when he makes his 17th career start against Tampa Bay.
He has another chance to reclaim the position he lost almost two years ago. Smith has envisioned how he'd like his first game to go for his 0-3 team.
Bengals beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he said. I just want to get things rolling. My goal is to be at .500 come our bye week (Oct. 20).
Smith was promoted from emergency third quarterback this past week by coach Dick LeBeau. Gus Frerotte will be the third QB today while his throwing thumb heals. Jon Kitna is No. 2.
Bengals coaches have no real plan. They're simply hoping Smith's combination of running and throwing ability can sustain some drives and improve the anemic scoring average of 5.3 points. It's desperation time.
Smith is not being asked to win the game, which was the case two years ago when Smith was a second-year quarterback with four starts under his belt. Former coach Bruce Coslet and club president Mike Brown said the Bengals would go as far as Smith took them.
The Bengals were 2-8 - Coslet quit at 0-3 - when LeBeau benched Smith.
The coaches that were here, they spoiled him a little bit, right tackle Willie Anderson said of Smith. It wasn't his fault. You can't come in and say, "This is your job and this team is going as far as you'll take us.'
That's too much for a guy. He should have been groomed better. Donovan McNabb wasn't getting told that. Tim Couch wasn't getting told that. (Daunte) Culpepper definitely wasn't getting told that, and look at the difference in the way those guys went. It's crazy.
Smith also started the 2000 season with two rookie wide receivers (Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans) and a weak left tackle (Rod Jones) that left Smith's blind side vulnerable. Coslet and then-offensive coordinator Ken Anderson kept Smith in the pocket, confining him to an offense that didn't make use of his talent and setting him up for failure.
In the 2000 opener, Coslet had Smith throw 43 times. Corey Dillon ran the ball 12 times. The Bengals lost 24-7 to the Browns. That was then.
This is now. Smith showed promise in his only 2001 start, Dec. 16, at the Meadowlands against the Jets. Playing in the offense of coordinator Bob Bratkowski, which is similar to what Smith used as a senior at Oregon, Smith threw for 35 yards and ran for another 20 in one quarter.
I love this offense, Smith said. It's a lot simpler to me.
In Coslet's offense, Smith had to check on as many as four receivers on any given play. Now, it's check one, check two and, if they're covered, run.
Smith tore a hamstring early in the second quarter of the Jets game, an injury that required surgery, and was lost for the season.
He has matured, Bratkowski said of Smith. He understands, "Hey, this life, it doesn't always go the way you want to.' He's maturing as a man, which is helping him mature as a quarterback.
Smith says he has developed as a player.
You just have to find a way to relax, he said. You just have to know it is just football. If I can do that (today), I'm very confident we'll be able to move the football on these guys.
Anderson is looking forward to Smith's start.
It'll be a boost for the guys, Anderson said. Guys are eager to see what he can do. During the preseason, he did generate some excitement.
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