Updated: 9:15 p.m.
Hounded by conditioning issues that have plagued his injured foot for the last 50 weeks, Smith practiced for the first time Tuesday since January in the Bengals’ first practice at Paul Brown Stadium since they broke training camp last week.
It’s only because the club feels like he can add so much at right tackle for a line that is already taking heat even though last season the Bengals finished ninth in rushing and 10th in fewest sacks per pass. People forget that in the final seven games of last season when Smith was able to return to the lineup, his strength and physical prowess impressed mightily even though he only played about 25 to 30 percent of the snaps in most games.
Whitworth hasn’t forgotten.
“He’s a talented player. He’s produced. He’s played really well at a high level,” Whitworth said. “He’s definitely a talent. He’s got all the skills to be a really good football player, so we’re excited to have him out there.”
Whitworth has been getting on Smith because in his two seasons he has yet to take a snap at the Bengals’ summer home of Georgetown College. Last year disappeared in a monthlong holdout and this year Smith's foot and conditioning doomed him to head coach Marvin Lewis’ physically unable to perform list (PUP) and doghouse. Maybe not in that order.
“But we’ve all been on him about (Georgetown),” Whitworth said with a smile. “He’s working hard. Trying to get all that pressure off his foot by losing weight and all that kind of stuff. He’s done well. Heck, we’re just ready to get him out there playing and getting him some reps.”
And Smith needs those reps as evidenced by offensive line coach Paul Alexander’s reaction to that first practice.
“It looked like he hasn’t been practicing,” Alexander said and Smith agreed he is behind on his technique.
“It was off,” he said. “A couple of cans of WD40 I should be all right.”
Lewis didn’t say much about Smith’s day, In fact, he said he didn’t watch him and would wait until he sees tape of Smith working with the second team behind starter
Smith says he’s “very confident” he’ll be ready for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener in New England as he bids to make his second NFL start. He has been dealing with February surgery to insert a pin designed to finish repairing the broken foot that knocked him out of the first 10 games last season. He broke it his third day after ending his holdout on Sept. 1 on top of missing all the spring camps. But the skein ended Tuesday as he shook hands with Bengals strength coach Chip Morton while leaving the locker room for practice.
And why not? Morton and Smith have been hooked at the hip since the first day of training camp on July 28 when Smith arrived battling the foot and weight issues and was deemed not ready.
With Morton, as well as assistant Jeff Friday and weight-room assistants Carlos Woods and Bill Zenisek overseeing Smith's three workouts a day, Lewis let Smith hit the field. That now means he’s not eligible to be on the physically unable to perform list. It also means that he’s passed his conditioning test, according to Morton.
“He’s lost a significant amount of weight,” said Morton, who wouldn’t elaborate. “He has a ways to go. But from what we’ve seen in this three-week process, he’s been very committed and worked very hard.”
Published reports said Smith was in the 370-pound range early in camp, but he didn’t look that big Tuesday.
"I lost a few pounds," he said. "Overall the conditioning stayed about the same; they were really impressed with my conditioning."
Indeed, Morton said Tuesday that “it may sound weird,” but they were taken aback by his level of fitness when Smith reported back on the 28th. Smith said the foot problem hindered his conditioning, but Morton took care of that with a grueling regimen that began at 5:30 a.m. each day.
“A lot of cardio and a lot of burning calories,” Morton said. “In the morning we worked heavily doing that and then later in the day we would switch to more football-related drills. I think he’s shown great effort. And this was a day-long deal. I told him it doesn’t end each day until your head hits the pillow at night.”
Lewis didn’t hide his disdain for Smith’s progress and threatened to put him on PUP list to start the season if it didn’t get better.
“He’s being a coach trying to push me,” Smith said. “I had great motivation from Chip and Jeff and everyone in the weight room. Everything was hard."
“Yes I do, indeed,” Smith said when asked if his camp was harder than the other. "I was by myself for one thing. The football stuff was easier.”
Now, it is the football stuff.
“I’m alive, so it must have went pretty good,” said Smith, hoping for some more good than that after a tough 50 weeks.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The Bengals waived last year’s fourth-round pick, center
The move came on the heels of rookie
“I think Reggie has really progressed and that’s great to see,” Lewis said after practice.
» ProFootballTalk.com is reporting that Bengals SAM linebacker
PFT put the fine at $46,470.08.
Usually first-time offenders in similar cases face only a fine, but apparently the league felt, at first, that Maualuga hitting some parked cars went beyond normal circumstances. Maualuga is starting his second straight season at SAM but he got a lot of snaps at middle linebacker in Sunday's 33-24 win over Denver.
And he is clearly relieved he's not going to miss any games, and it was obvious it had been hanging over his head for a couple of months.
“I feel great that we’ve got everything put behind me and now being able to concentrate and play football again," he said before practice. "I took care of what I was I able to take care of and let the rest take care of itself. I’m glad we appealed. Now I can concentrate on being a better football player.”
» Center Kyle Cook (ankle) said he'll be back to practice Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday.
» If that game isn't sold out, it won't be on live or tape delayed in local TV markets because Fox is carrying the game nationally with Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston in the booth.
» Also not working Tuesday and working on the side were defensive linemen