What a difference a year makes. After the 2010 season, most Bengals fans were calling offensive tackle Andre Smith a bust who couldn't stay healthy. He was an embarrassment to the number 71. He battled weight problems since joining the team in 2009 and those issues led to various foot injuries and an inability to contribute. With a lockout fully in place in the 2011 offseason, fans worried that Smith's weight would balloon out of control.
Only it didn't. We started to hear murmurs that Smith dedicated himself to an offseason conditioning program and that he was dropping weight. He got his playing weight to around 330 pounds and he looked like a completely different guy. All in all, it was an impressive transformation, particularly when he didn't have the team's services and facilities to lean on for the conditioning process.
It paid off on the field in 2011 as well. He played solid football last season and did so in fourteen games, which exceeded the amount of games he played in the previous two seasons He kept Andy Dalton clean last year and was a big proponent in having Cedric Benson another 1,000-yard rushing season. Even though he's viewed as being better as a run-blocker than as a pass-blocker, he only allowed two sacks on Dalton last season. He's eyeing another solid campaign in 2012, not only for the team's success but to ensure a big contract after the season is done.
Because of his performance last season, national pundits have taken notice. He and Andrew Whitworth were recently named as one of the top-five tackle tandems in the NFL by Pat Kirwan. What's more, SB Nation recently named the Bengals offensive line unit as No.3 in the NFL. It looks like Smith has turned a corner in his NFL career and it's a sight for sore eyes. We always knew that the kid had potential, but we're now getting to see him realize it. The 2012 season is a big one for him and he'll need to prove that he's the team's long term answer at right tackle.