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D’Ante Smith pushing his way up depth chart while impressing coaches

Zac Taylor couldn’t help but gush over D’Ante Smith’s performance on the offensive line so far.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are getting prepared for more regular game preparation with their first preseason game coming up next Saturday. It is time that we can start getting a read on who is impressing during camp. One rookie who has really got himself on the coaches radar is offensive lineman D’Ante Smith out of ECU. He has apparently taken his opportunities to play with the first team and ran with them based on Zac Taylor’s accounts.

“There’s just some opportunities with Quinton Spain being out to rotate some other guys in there,” Bengals head coach Taylor told reporters. “He’d been making progress at tackle...(so) let’s throw him in at guard and see how he does, and he did really well.

“You just want to find the best five guys you can put out there and play them. And if D’Ante proves to be one of those guys, let’s get him on the field and make it work.”

Cincinnati spent a fourth-round pick on Smith, and it appeared to be more of a prospective pick at the time. He needed to put on more weight. The thought was maybe he could compete for a spot in a season or two, but we have now seen him take starting reps at tackle and guard while looking pretty good. Part of why he seems to be ahead of schedule in that front may be his very focused approach.

“My first interaction was at the Senior Bowl during that 18-minute meeting with him where he was really impressive,” Taylor said. “One of the things he laid out to you back then was his weight progression and what his goals were for his weight.

“I still have my notes. He has hit every single weight progression he gave us for the season. The Senior Bowl, the combine time, reporting for NFL, reporting for training camp...bam! He hit all five of them.

“And so that just tells you he’s got that pro mentality where he’s got a plan in place, and he’s going to execute it. I think he was working out with Sam Hubbard and some of those guys during the offseason, and they were really impressed by him. So just...he’s a rookie, but he’s got that pro mentality. And that’s a great thing to have.”

Since Taylor took over as head coach he has preached about wanting players who are high caliber on and off the field who do things the right way. It appears that Smith has been doing just about everything right up to this point.

No one should expect a guy to be able to slide into guard after never even really playing that position to hold their own. Smith did so well that he even remained in the starting lineup while fellow rookie Jackson Carman did not during Sunday’s practice. That isn’t to say that means too much right now, but it does start to raise a few eyebrows about how much this staff loves Smith.

Right now, the Bengals are hoping the cream rises to the top, so to speak, for the offensive line. The top five guys have to play regardless of who they are, and Smith has not made that decision easy so far. Even if he doesn’t end up starting, having a reliable backup to fall back on at tackle and guard is never a bad thing.

One thing we can take away right now though is that we can’t count Smith out of this competition for a starting spot.