11-29-01, 3:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
This is what Akili Smith was talking about. Forty snaps a day instead of 40 a week.
That's how many plays Smith figures he got in Wednesday's chilly, wet workout fit for an Oregon Duck. In his first practice as Jon Kitna's backup, Smith took the most snaps in a workout since the second week in August when he was the starter for the Bengals' second pre-season game.
"Terrible day to throw, but it was great to get the reps," Smith said. "That was my whole thing. Even when we were 2-0, I just wanted to get more reps so I can get better. I guess some coaches say, 'Let him sit back and watch and learn.' But I feel like the only way to get better is to practice and that's what it was all about."
Smith said head coach Dick LeBeau was his typical supportive
self during practice, saying things such as, "Good throw, 11. Hang on to the ball. Way to get rid of it, 11." Smith was actually quite relieved LeBeau didn't mention Smith's comments in which the quarterback objected to being put into Sunday's loss in the final 1:13.
LeBeau told the media Wednesday he wouldn't respond to comments he felt were emotional in nature.
"He's a smart man. He knows those things were said when I was emotional," Smith said. "I'm kind of glad he didn't say anything to me."
But in the NFL, one man's emotional lift is usually another man's downer. Such is the way it was Wednesday with Scott Mitchell, demoted to No. 3.
Mitchell, a free agent to-be, may have taken his last snap for a team he led to a 2-2 finish last year. Mitchell, 33, took Wednesday's news as hard as he took the decision to start Kitna at the start of the regular season.
"I'm extremely surprised. I'm disappointed," said Mitchell, who had three of his 12 passes intercepted in Sunday's second half.
"It really hasn't been explained to me," Mitchell said. "I'm disappointed at the game on Sunday. I expected to play better. I tried to force too many things. It doesn't mean I'm a bad player or that I can't help this team out. That's the frustrating part. I felt like I can help this team out. I wasn't given an opportunity to do it."
THIS AND THAT: The Bengals' running game, which has slid from No. 6 to 21 in the NFL since Oct. 28, got no favors when tight end Marco Battaglia went out for the season with an appendectomy. That leaves the Bengals with one pure tight end in Tony McGee. Nick Williams, a fullback making his first appearance this Sunday after ACL knee surgery, and Brad St, Louis, who sees more action as a long snapper, will probably both get snaps as the second tight end. And Williams will make his debut at some point as a move player with fullback and tight end responsibilities.
Which doesn't bode well for the running game and double tight-end sets.
"We're fortunate we have Nick, but it's going to be a challenge for him," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "You always worry about a guy who has missed the offseason, training camp, preseason and he's going to be playing a different position. He's been good about studying, so let's see what happens out there. We've got options with him. The guy was a starting fullback last year, so he should be able to help us a couple of different ways."
LG Matt O'Dwyer, in his third week recovering from a sprained knee, returned to practice Wednesday for the first time but is still listed as doubtful after working for just the first half of the workout. . .CB Artrell Hawkins (high ankle sprain) is also doubtful, but Hawkins thinks it will come down to a game-time decision. . .WR Peter Warrick (bruised shoulder) didn't work and is still sore, but is probable and says he'll play. . .
The Bengals don't expect to sell out before Thursday's 1 p.m. deadline for the TV blackout. Working the sidelines for the Fox broadcast crew of Ray Bentley and John Jurkovic is Dan Hoard, voice of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.
ROMAN HOLIDAY: It took Cornerback Mark Roman 18 games, but he finally got his first NFL interception Sunday when he picked off Browns quarterback Tim Couch. And except for getting fried by wide receiver Kevin Johnson for a 47-yard pass, Roman, starting his fifth game at left corner, drew pretty good reviews.
"Each and every week I can see myself getting better than even what I was the week before," Roman said. "Technique, reading keys, knowing what to expect. Awareness. It's all starting to come together."
Roman has to keep improving this Sunday against Tampa Bay because it looks like the Bengals have hit the hat trick at cornerback. The other starter, Artrell Hawkins, is doubtful with a high ankle sprain.
Rodney Heath and Tom Carter, the Opening Day starters at left and at nickel, respectively, are on injured reserve.
"I'm glad I got that out of the way," Roman said of his first interception. "They say the first one is the hardest. I'm ready now."
Roman, a 2000 second-round pick, used his growing savvy to out-position Johnson in the end zone to keep it a 12-0 game late in the third quarter. Roman saw Couch take one step back after the snap and saw Johnson head straight down field and immediately thought "go' route. Roman ran with Johnson and caught the ball. That didn't happen in the second quarter when Johnson made a juggling catch on Roman at the Cincinnati 9.
"I should have had that. I caught it as I was going down and he was going up and tipped it and then caught it as he was going down," Roman said. "It's not like he beat me."
That came in the first quarter, when Couch hit Johnson over the left shoulder in stride down the sideline.
"That was a good throw and catch," Roman said. "That's the best defense against any pass coverage is a good throw and catch."
Another Sunday, another Johnson. This time it's the Buccaneers' Keyshawn Johnson. The 6-4, 212-pound Johnson leads the NFC with 76 catches and although he's still looking for his first touchdown of the season, Keyshawn is a very dangerous player.
"He's got a rep for talking a lot, but he does a lot of things," Roman said. "He'll block you going full speed. He's a bigger guy who is powerful. He'll try to block you out and use his body. He's bigger than most of the cornerbacks in the league and you have to get ready for that kind of game."