Despite problems with inconsistency and injuries, there was a time when Andre Smith was one of the more talented right tackles in the NFL. Those issues are why he has never received a Pro Bowl or All Pro berth for his efforts, but when at his best, Smith was a huge asset for the Bengals. Smith spent 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings, mostly on Injured Reserve after suffering a season-ending triceps injury in Week 4.
He will need to return to form in 2017 to keep his career alive and to help aid in that process, the Bengals are moving him to right guard. Unlike the right tackle position, which requires a lot of fluidity and athleticism to keep up with NFL edge rushers, guard focuses much more on strength, technique, and power. This should allow him to utilize the skills he has developed in his eight seasons in the NFL, while minimizing the effects of his age and injury history.
“I think Andre has a chance to be terrific at guard,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander told Dan Hoard of Bengals.com. “He’s getting to start from the beginning this year with the base techniques and then learn the offense as he goes. If we all of the sudden picked him up a week before the season and said, ‘Go play right guard,’ I don’t think he could do it. But going through this progression I think he’ll be fine.”
Smith is a big, strong and looks the part of a guard. That, combined with his experience playing in the NFL, suggests this might be the best move for his career at this point.
“We’ve always had a big, strong, explosive right guard here with guys like Bobby Williams and Kevin Zeitler,” Alexander said. “Andre is a big, strong, powerful man.”
The transition to a new position in the middle of a player’s career isn’t an easy one. But, Smith isn’t backing down.
“Everything happens a lot faster at guard – that’s one thing that I’ve noticed – but it’s been a fun experience transitioning from tackle to guard,” Smith said. “Physically everything happens a little faster and mentally you have to think about a lot more than you do at tackle.”
One thing going for Smith is that he has one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL to practice against while he hones his skills and prepares for his new role.
“I’m fortunate to go up against Geno (Atkins) every day,” Smith said. “It helps me prepare for the other really good defensive lineman in the NFL. It forces me to work on my technique and make sure that I have everything down pat.”
The way the Bengals see it, helping a long-time Bengal rediscover their purpose in the NFL is rewarding in and of itself. That said, finding a place for a talented veteran with many years of experience with the team wasn’t exactly difficult.
“I just love when Andre’s in our huddle,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. “I’m not particularly concerned where he plays as long as he’s in our huddle. I really like him personally, I like his production, and I like that he’s done it before. And I like his 35-inch reach.”
In light of how rough this offseason was on the Bengals’ offensive line, Smith’s return to Cincinnati makes sense and he knows it.
“It didn’t surprise me that they were interested,” Smith said. “There was a need after Zeitler and Whit left and there was an opportunity for myself. I know the organization and they know me, I know the town, and I’m happy to be back.”
It will be interesting to see how quickly Smith adjusts to his new role. However, there should be little doubt as to his qualifications to make the switch. Eight years of experience at right tackle certainly helps, as does his stature at 6’4” and 325 pounds. However, it is his can-do attitude when faced with such a big change that really jumps out. The Bengals’ right guard position has been one of the most consistently positive parts of the offensive line in recent years, so hopefully Smith can continue that tradition.