Editor's note: There are a lot more players than five that have something to prove in 2011. In fact, the entire team has something to prove. However, I narrowed down five players that have the most to prove this season and ranked them in order. Here is No. 1......
And the player with the most to prove in 2011 is.......
Offensive Lineman Andre Smith
The Bengals first-round pick from the 2009 NFL Draft started his Bengals career on a bad foot, literally. After a long contract holdout that lasted into mini camp and into the preseason. When he did finally show up, he was overweight and out of shape. Smith finally made his way onto the practice field, and just when we thought we were going to get to see the No. 6 overall pick prove to us that he was worth the selection, he broke his foot. Smith missed the majority of the season his rookie year, only playing in six games, starting one.
After the 2009 season came to an end, Smith got foot surgery and Bengals fans figured we'd get to see him in action in 2010. Nope. Smith's foot wasn't fully healed by the time the team made their way to Georgetown, but he was ready for the regular season. He played in the first seven games of the 2010 season, starting four of them, but then was placed on injured reserve in November for breaking his foot again. He missed the rest of the season.
So, Smith, being a No. 6 overall pick, has played in 13 of 32 games and has only started in five of them. Most would take that information and call Smith a bust.
I wouldn't go quite that far yet, though.
Smith has a ton of talent, we can't really deny that. The question is if he can finally keep himself healthy and keep himself on the field. After all, the Bengals could be starting a rookie quarterback this year and he could use all the help from his offensive lineman that he can get.
Even though Smith's foot has still kept him from working out with his teammates this offseason, he seems to have dropped some weight and is in better shape than he has been throughout the last couple years.
Most importantly, though, Smith knows it's his time to step up.
Whitworth went on: "The first thing he said to me was, 'Whit, it's my time. Time for me to step up.'
Hopefully Smith does step up. If he doesn't, there's a good chance that the people who have held out hope that Smith isn't a bust, including his coaches, might finally give up on him and cast him aside. At that point, he'd basically become a wasted pick and a waste of money.
The Bengals offense, under Jay Gruden, will be pounding the ball between the tackles in 2011. The Bengals could certainly use Smith's run-blocking expertise. If Smith pulls it off and proves to Bengals fans that he was worth the sixth overall pick, he could anchor the right side of the team's offensive line for years to come.
If he doesn't, though, I think that most fans, and maybe even his coaches will write him off as a bust. That's why Smith has more to prove than any other Bengals player.