10-31-02, 1:10 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It's one of those games Sunday where Akili Smith looks across the field and sees the franchise quarterback he thinks he can and should be for the Bengals.
Three years ago, Smith very nearly became the first draft choice of the expansion Cleveland Browns. On Sunday, the Bengals play quarterback David Carr, the expansion Texans' first pick from last April's NFL Draft who already has more touchdown passes (seven) in his first seven NFL games than Smith (5) has in 22 games over four seasons.
"It makes me kind of sick," Smith said Wednesday after another practice with virtually no snaps as the No. 3 quarterback. "I know I can do it if I get a chance. If I get a full training camp under my belt. The bottom line is I wasn't successful in my first year and now I've only played two games in the last year and a half. I just don't think I've had a chance to develop."
Smith doesn't want to take issue with the Bengals publicly, but he looks at the rise of quarterbacks such as Carr and Tim Couch (the man who became the Browns' first pick) on first-year teams and disagrees with how the team handled him. He agrees there have been "non-Bengal," factors contributing to his situation, but he's also not sure the club has had a solid plan to develop him.
"Look at those guys, Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark (in Cleveland) and (Texans coach Dom) Capers out there, they've had a formula for success," said Smith of team executives and coaches who moved from one organization to another. "Once you've had that formula
for success, you can take your staff and what you believe in in this league, and go somewhere and get it done.
"They have a plan for the quarterbacks. They know the dos and donts and how to be successful in this league," Smith said. "Look at what we've been doing. I've never knocked an organization that's been to the Super Bowl twice. (The Bengals) went to the Super Bowl twice in the '80s. But right now, the '90s onto 2000, we haven't done anything. I don't know what it is."
The expansionists stuck by Couch and Carr right from the get go and had no plans to bench them, although they had the luxury of no expectations because they were a new team. Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, also from the class of '99, sat for a year as understudies. Smith went into the fire when the team got off to an unexpected 0-4 start in '99 and he wonders, "Maybe they should have waited a year."
Carr, Couch, McNabb and Culpepper had other things going for them that Smith didn't. Carr and Couch each had 24 starts in college, while McNabb and Culpepper started all four of their seasons. Yet Smith had just 19 Division I starts in a season and a half at Oregon. And none of those quarterbacks held out for the first 27 practices of training camp or missed the last half of his rookie year with an in injured toe.
"No question those are factors," Smith said. "Their playing time in college put them a year or two ahead of me.
"Now that I look at the thing, I regret it to the fullest," Smith said of the holdout. "But there's nothing I can do about it. . .There have been a lot factors, not just what (the Bengals) have done."
One of those factors could be what the Bengals asked Smith to do. The Texas are bringing Carr along cautiously. Even though they've trailed a good bit of the season, Houston has protected Carr by asking him to drop back to pass an average of just 31 times per game in his first seven starts and only more than 30 times three times. That's attempts plus sacks.
Smith, on the other hand, dropped back to pass an average of 40 times per his first full seven starts spanning 1999 and 2000. In five of those seven, he dropped back at least 40 times.
Ironically, Carr and Smith were both taught in college by current Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. In Carr's first year at Fresno State, Tedford was his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before he left to become the same for Smith at Oregon.
Both swear by him. Before Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau tapped Bob Bratkowski as offensive coordinator after the 2000 season, he talked informally with Tedford about Smith.
"If (Carr) had any kind of hand from Ted, then it had to be a good thing for him," Smith said. "He leaves his mark on everyone he coaches."
Carr said Wednesday he likes the Texans' arrangement of offensive coordinator Chris Palmer also serving as his quarterbacks coach, which Tedford also did at Fresno.
"What makes Chris a good coach is he really relates to his players," Carr said. "That's something that guys can feed off automatically. If they like the guy, they want to go out and play for him. That's one of the things that Chris and Jeff have."
Meanwhile, Smith struggled to find continuity with his coaches since head coach and chief playcaller Bruce Coslet resigned after he had just five full NFL starts. For the past two years Smith has developed a good relationship with Bratkowski, but the duties are split with quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson.
Smith is much more comfortable with Bratkowski's system than Coslet's, but he's had much fewer chances to run it.
"People are going to get sick of me saying it, but I need the reps. I'm not going to get better watching other guys play," Smith said. "If I'm truly next in line (behind Jon Kitna), why don't they at least give me some snaps in practice?"