4-21-01, 12:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals, who haven't had a double-digit sacker in nine seasons, hope they got their next one Saturday when they selected Missouri defensive end Justin Smith in a semi-surprise with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft.
Ironically, the Bengals turned to Smith when the player they coveted, Texas left tackle Leonard Davis, went with the second pick to Arizona. The only sack Davis allowed this year came at the hands of Smith.
Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner said the club expects Smith to start at the "elephant," end position that calls for him to play on either side. Calling him the most athletic lineman he worked out in the country, Duffner hopes Smith can revive a pass rush that had an AFC- low 26 sacks last season, second fewest in the NFL.
The 6-4, 270-pound Smith racked up 22.5 sacks in three seasons at Missouri, 11 coming in a junior season he also had 24 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals think Smith has the quickness to get
around the huge left tackles in the AFC Central, such as Baltimore's 335-pound Jonathan Ogden and Jacksonville's 320-pound Tony Boselli.
They also like Smith's relentless intensity pursuing the passer and his place on the Big 12 All- Academic team. He holds the Missouri school record with a 500-pound power clean, bench presses 500, and squats 715.
"His productivity, coupled with his athleticism, coupled with his fit in terms of doing the same position makes him a real exciting addition," Duffner said. "We really like his work eithic, his character. He's built a reputation on that Missouri and is a real fierce competitor."
The Bengals believe he's just the right size for what is needed to beat the big tackles nowadays. The AFC sack leaders last season, Miami defensive ends Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor, weighed 270 and 260 pounds respectively. Kansas City defensive end Eric Hicks had 14 sacks with 278 pounds and Tennessee's Jevon Kearse had 11.5 sacks at 6-4 and 265 pounds.
"It's speed and technique. You need a little bit of both," Duffner said. "He's as big, if not bigger, than some of the most productive pass rushers in the league. Size is not a real negative with him. He's been productive against the best in college football."
It's too early to say if the drafting of Smith means that veterans John Copeland, Vaughn Booker and the recently signed Kevin Henry are going to compete at the other end.
"We have to see how we're going to line up and what we're using," Duffner said.
Duffner compares Smith to Bengals defensive line coach Tim Krumrie in a lot of ways. Intensity. Toughness. Even their rural upbringings.
Krumrie, a 10th-round pick in 1983, came to the Bengals from small Mondovi, Wis., and the University of Wisconsin. Smith is Missouri all the way, growing up in Jefferson City and working on his family's arm.
When he was eight years old, Smith and his heifer, Bubbles, won at the 4-H Show at the Missouri State Fair.
"He's a very competitive guy," Duffner said. "We expect him to come in and play all three downs."
The Bengals approached some teams about trading down to around the 10th pick, but had no takers in their bid to pick up an extra second-round choice.