Any time that an NFL team gets an important starter back at practice, it's a good thing. And when that player happens to be Andre Smith, the starting right tackle of the Cincinnati Bengals, it's an even better thing. Though we don't like to pick on any player, especially one that is as talented as Smith, one must concede that his time with the club has been a roller coaster. From conditioning and injury issues, to an off-field gun charge and his no-shows at this year's OTAs after signing a new three-year deal, he has been a source of frustration.
Then, as he arrived back at Paul Brown Stadium late last week, Smith was placed on the Non-Football Injury List (NFI) with a calf issue. On top of that, it was reported that Smith was about 12 pounds above last year's playing weight, which gave cause for minor concern. After doing some side work the first few days of Training Camp, Smith was cleared to practice for the first time in 2013 on Monday.
Needless to say, the announcement brought a sigh of relief to Bengals fans everywhere. After his first day of practice, Artrell Hawkins said that Smith told him that he felt good about the day and was happy to be out there. Count offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as another. Kevin Goheen at FOX Sports Ohio tells us that Smith added: ""My wind is great. My wind is doing really well. I’m really excited about that. I just have to continue to work on my technique, sharpen up some things and play even faster."
Via Jay Morrison of Cox Media Group, Gruden said this of Smith's return:
#Bengals O.C. Jay Gruden joking about Andre Smith's return: "I forgot what he looks like in a uniform. Now I remember: ugly."— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 29, 2013
More Gruden on Andre: "He looked more defined and muscular. I think I took some of his fat and he took some of my muscle." #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 29, 2013
Perhaps the extra weight that Smith carried this year from last might be a bit more muscle--after all, muscle does weight more than fat. That's complete speculation at this point though. What isn't speculation is the one-eighty that Gruden made in his thoughts about Smith. At last Tuesday's Training Camp kickoff luncheon, Gruden said that Smith's absence in the offseason "sent the wrong message" to the rest of the team.
What a difference a day in pads makes.