The last time that Andre Smith played guard, he was a 9th grader at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama.
"We had a pretty good lineman named Dominic Lee my freshman year of high school and he was the man so I played guard next to him," said Smith.
Fifteen years later, including eight as a starting right tackle in the NFL, Andre is preparing to play guard again. He's the likely replacement in the Bengals starting lineup for Kevin Zeitler who signed as a free agent with Cleveland.
"I think Andre has a chance to be terrific at guard," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He's getting to start from the beginning this year with the base techniques and then learn the offense as he goes. If we all of the sudden picked him up a week before the season and said, 'Go play right guard,' I don't think he could do it. But going through this progression I think he'll be fine."
"Everything happens a lot faster at guard – that's one thing that I've noticed – but it's been a fun experience transitioning from tackle to guard," said Smith. "Physically everything happens a little faster and mentally you have to think about a lot more than you do at tackle."
Andre will be tested at training camp by trying to block five-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins.
"I'm fortunate to go up against Geno every day," said Smith. "It helps me prepare for the other really good defensive lineman in the NFL. It forces me to work on my technique and make sure that I have everything down pat."
Smith spent his first seven NFL seasons in Cincinnati after being the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Minnesota Vikings signed Andre to a one-year free agent deal in 2016, but a triceps injury ended his season after four games.
After Andrew Whitworth and Zeitler left Cincinnati as free agents this spring, the Bengals brought Smith back on a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
"It didn't surprise me that they were interested," said Smith. "There was a need after Zeitler and Whit left and there was an opportunity for myself. I know the organization and they know me, I know the town, and I'm happy to be back."
Alexander says that the Bengals coaching staff and front office were in agreement that Smith's 6'4", 325 pound frame make him an excellent candidate to transition to guard.
"I think we all kind of saw that," said Alexander. "We've always had a big, strong, explosive right guard here with guys like Bobby Williams and Kevin Zeitler. Andre is a big, strong, powerful man."
"I just love when Andre's in our huddle," said offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. "I'm not particularly concerned where he plays as long as he's in our huddle. I really like him personally, I like his production, and I like that he's done it before. And I like his 35-inch reach."
Smith's position on the offensive line is new, but his current team is anything but.
"It's been great," Andre told me. "Everybody has been very receptive and they appreciate having me back. And I'm happy to be back.
"It's like I never left."
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