8-28-02, 11:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
For the second time in five days, Akili Smith is going to mop up in a game started by the kind of quarterback he is supposed to be.
On Saturday, it was Aaron Brooks of the Saints. On Thursday, it is Michael Vick of the Falcons. It's the kind of night that gets Smith, who believes he could win a NFL job if he gets most of the snaps in a training camp, thinking about the possibilities. Instead of what might have been. So he plans to huddle with Bengals management after the season to try and get a bead on the future and not before so he doesn't "stir up any controversy," during the year.
The chance to play in a game with Vick also gets him wondering why he hears whispers from inside and outside the club that grouse about his penchant for running out of the pocket.
"I don't know what everybody is complaining about," Smith says. "I hear people saying I run too much and all that happens is that we go straight down field and the chains move. I don't understand it. The bottom line is, the sticks move and you get a chance to score."
Smith, 27, hopes he gets a chance to run and pass the Bengals down the field at some point. He has accepted head coach Dick LeBeau's appointment of Gus Frerotte as the starter, and after Wednesday's practice, he participated in a friendly game of "hit the crossbar with a pass," with Frerotte, backup Jon Kitna and several other teammates.
But with this year's quarterbacks derby just completed, he doesn't want it to be too long.
"I've said all along I'd be willing to stay with the Bengals," Smith says. "But I also want to get a chance to play. I don't want to be a third-stringer the rest of my life. I'm not looking to stir up any controversy or anything, but what if Gus or Jon leads us all the way to the playoffs? I would just want to meet with them after the season and see what the plans are. From what I understand, next year is the first year that my cap (number) isn't that big."
True. If the Bengals released or traded Smith after this coming June 1, the Bengals figure to absorb only about $1.8 million in their '03 salary cap. But Bengals President Mike Brown hasn't given up on him.
"I don't think any of us can say what will happen," Brown says. "A lot of times there are surprises that no one ever sees coming. He has certainly surprised some people this year and I think we just have to wait and see what happens."
Smith, the third pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, is anxious to see Vick, the No. 1 pick from 2001.
"I'm kind of excited to see the guy," Smith said. "He's extremely talented. I think I'm like those guys. Culpepper. McNabb. The mobile, athletic, strong-armed mold. Vick is probably the fastest of all of them. As far as arm strength, I think we've all got pretty good arms."
Although Smith has struggled through a rookie holdout and injury, a sophomore benching, and unsuccessful derbies as a junior and senior, he thinks he has slowly graduated to NFL starter.
"If I went into a camp this year and I knew the team was mine and I got all the reps, and there was no quarterback controversy, no doubt I think I could be a starting quarterback in the NFL," Smith said.
But on Thursday, he'll probably play the last quarter and a half and like it.
"I said I've got four pre-season games to show what I can do," Smith says. "I've got one left."