Monday, September 30, 2002

Akili laments offense's struggles

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Akili Smith just doesn't get it.

        First he was heralded. Then he was benched. The Bengals' 1999 first-round draft pick evolved from golden child to forgotten child in four years, and Sunday was the day the quarterback was supposed to prove all Smith-doubters wrong. Except he didn't.

        Smith was 12-of-33 passing for 117 yards and one interception, and he was sacked three times in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 35-7 thumping of the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

        “We've been losing bad for four years now. I'm constantly trying to figure out what the heck is going on,” Smith said. “We put in good game plans every week, and every week it seems like something happens and we lose.”

        Smith started one game last year and played in two. In 2000, he started in 11 of 12 games, passed for 1,253 yards and rushed for 232 more.

        Smith regained favor with the Bengals coaching staff after a 30-3 thrashing at Atlanta last week. Clipboard in hand, Smith watched as Gus Frerotte and Jon Kitna failed to move the offense.

        Frerotte is nursing a thumb injury and battered reputation after passing for only one touchdown in the Bengals' first three losses. He's thrown five interceptions and been sacked 10 times.

        Kitna, who tied a team record for interceptions in a season (22) last year, hasn't thrown a TD pass. He has an interception and was sacked once after replacing Frerotte in Atlanta.

        But sentimentality didn't work in Smith's favor Sunday, as the Bucs gained 363 total yards to the Bengals' 168. The Bengals' lone touchdown came on Brian Simmons' 51-yard interception return.

        Bengals coach Dick LeBeau is running out of options for an offensive engineer. He said he would look over game film before making any more quarterback decisions.

        As of Sunday, the Bengals were at the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories, including a tie with Miami and Carolina for a league-worst number of interceptions (7).

        “I will evaluate what chances (Smith) did have,” LeBeau said. “He was harassed, that's for sure. We couldn't run the ball to keep them off him. We've got to find a way to score.”

        Rookie offensive tackle Levi Jones wasn't impressed by Smith's performance, but he wasn't critical of it, either. He said it's just too soon to make decisions about a guy who has been sidelined for so long.

        “For a person that didn't get a lot of reps early on, it's hard to be really good off the bat,” Jones said. “He made strides, though. I think it's a matter of time.”

        Smith said the Bengals picked up Tampa Bay's defensive signals based on films they'd seen, but they still couldn't elude the Bucs. Smith took the blame.

        “I played poorly today,” he said. “I just didn't get it done.”


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