To say that Andre Smith has been a source of frustration for Bengals fans would be putting it delicately. Since coming to the team as the No.6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Smith has endured quite a bit as a professional football player. A good amount of it has been self-inflicted, be it weight issues and/or injuries stemming from those conditioning problems.
This offseason was an odd one for Smith, to say the least. He entered free agency after coming off of his best year, but wasn't getting any nibbles on the open market. The Bengals made an early offer that Smith and his agent scoffed at, but there weren't any other takers for his services at the price that he was demanding. You see, aside from the conditioning history issues, Smith also had a legal run-in in the spring for a gun possession charge. Luckilly for smith and the Bengals, no real hubbub was made of the issue and it appears to be behind the fifth-year tackle.
Ultimately, Smith signed a three-year deal for $18 million to remain with the Bengals. It worked out well for both parties, given that Smith received a long-term deal that was fair market value, and the Bengals managed to keep an important offensive player of theirs at a reasonable price.
All was settled and the issues were behind Smith, right? Wrong.
Smith was a no-show for OTAs and head coach Marvin Lewis only gave the reason that Smith was dealing with "personal issues" back home in Alabama. The familiar frustration started to bubble to the surface again because while it seemed that Smith had turned a corner over the past two seasons, a similar disappointment filled Paul Brown Stadium.
Smith ultimately showed up for Training Camp, was just a little overweight and then started practicing a few days into the start of practices. We never did receive the specifics to the reasoning of Smith's absence at OTAs (not that we deserve it--it's a personal matter for him), but all has been mum about the previous months. And, if you know anything about offensive linemen, it's often a good thing when you don't hear their name frequently called.
If you have been watching the team's first two preseason games, you would have noticed the first team's relative success running the football. You'll also notice that a majority of the big runs have come courtesy of the right side, where Smith plays.
Take the Tennessee Titans game last Saturday, for instance. BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't play, so rookie Giovani Bernard got most of the reps with the first team. Though he didn't rattle off huge runs, Bernard had some nice chunks and big holes were opened on the right side. He finished with seven carries for 30 yards and a 5.3 yards per carry average.
The coaches are noting the play of Smith, too. "He looked in great shape right when he showed up", offensive line coach Paul Alexander told Bengals.com. "He looks light on his feet kick, playing with intensity. Now you see it routinely. You see it on film. It's all coming together for him". Alexander also told Geoff Hobson that he is beginning to use Smith's tape with regularity as an example for his offensive line to follow.
What about Marvin Lewis? He is the guy who was in Smith's corner all along and wanted him back, right? "He's picked up where he left off a year ago, and that's a positive. He continues to grow as a player and as a leader on this team. He's probably matured. Whatever things he's been dealing with personally, he's been able to get them solved and be here and devote his full attention to football".
Smith himself admitted that he made mistakes in the past and expressed the desire to "have many great years to come". It would seem that many, including myself, wrongfully doubted Smith's ability to shake off the troubles he had this offseason and play well for this team. To be fair, he didn't exactly earn the benefit of the doubt with his previous track record, but maybe that should change given his turnaround in 2013.