The story of Andre Smith has been one of frustration. Selected sixth overall during the 2009 NFL Draft, Smith's contract negotiations and foot injury his rookie season wiped out the first half of his rookie season. Despite being in Marvin Lewis' dog house for failing to achieve a certain professionalism, not doing whatever he could to recover before training camp in 2010 as expected, Smith played seven games with four starts before another foot injury prematurely ended his season.
Then Smith grew up.
During the players-only workouts last year during the NFL lockout, Smith arrived having noticeably lost weight with a steely determination to get better. Smith started 14 games -- missing two with an ankle injury -- and contributed on an offensive line that tied for fourth with the fewest quarterback sacks allowed (25). Smith himself only allowed three of those quarterback sacks in 2011, eight hits on the quarterback and 17 quarterback pressures. Not quite the level of Andrew Whitworth, but as good as anyone else on Cincinnati's offensive line (right, that's still not saying much but it's by far his best season).
When asked how much Smith has improved, Lewis was glowing with compliments (as only Lewis can do).
A huge leap. He made a transition mentally to being a pro. He became the guy we hoped we drafted and maybe he wasn't going to show those signs in year one, but we hoped he wasn't hurt and could show them in year two. OK, it took till year three, but he did it and that's what's key.
Last year the Bengals declined a two-year option on Smith's rookie contract, meaning that he will be entering 2012 on a contract year -- though the team will probably attempt to get Smith extended at some point before next year's free agency based on his continued progress.