Bengals tap Andre Smith

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

For just the fifth time in their history Saturday the Bengals took an offensive tackle with a first-round pick when they opted for Alabama junior left tackle Andre Smith with the sixth pick.

And head coach Marvin Lewis indicated they expect him to start in the opener.

"He's a vey powerful man," said offfensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He can knock them back better than anyone in this draft."

The 6-4, 330-pound Smith follows a line that began with Vernon Holland in 1971 and stretches through Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz in 1980, Willie Anderson in 1996, and Levi Jones in 2002. Munoz and Jones played the left side, Holland and Anderson the right, but it is unclear where the Bengals will put Smith. He's viewed as a prototypical NFL right tackle in the Anderson mold, and while Jones' status is clouded by injury they do have another experienced left tackle. But it would involve moving Andrew Whitworth out of left guard.

Alexander, who flew to Atlanta on Thursday to make one final visit with Smith, said he can play both left and right tackle, but Lewis won't say which and says they'll see how he does at next weekend's rookie camp.

Many clubs and scouts around the league view Smith as the top tackle in a tackle-rich class that could put four in the top ten.

He made a recovery from a rough draft season that began with his suspension from Alabama's bowl game because of illegal contact with an agent and continued when he showed up heavy at the NFL scouting combine before leaving without telling anyone. When he took his shirt at his college pro day last month to apparently show how much weight he had lost, it was another blot on the scouting report.

But he has apparently received solid recommendations from Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Ozzie Newsome, the highly-regarded Ravens general manager, went to bat for him last month when he told reporters, "He made a bad decision leaving the combine. Can you recover from a bad decision? Yes, because, at the end of the day, we've got to put the tape on. And when you put the tape on, you see Andre Smith."

He also has had some weight issues, but Alexander was pleased with his weight when he put him on the scale unannounced Thursday.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock probably summeded it up best when he observed earlier this month, "I was tough on him at the combine. But I've done a lot of homework on him since, both in the film room and talking to people that know him. The conclusion I've come to and the conclusion I think the league has come to is that he's an immature kid. Not a bad kid, but an immature kid."

One thing that is mature is Smith's strength. It strength makes him the most dominant of the tackles available and contributed to a productive college career where he won the Outland Trophy this past season as the nation's top lineman after a season he allowed just one sack.

The Bengals are hoping he follows in the very large 19 Triple E steps of another Alabama native who wore No. 71. Anderson played in the sixth most games in club history with 181 and went to four Pro Bowls from 1996-2007.

"I don't want to make that comparison," Alexander said. "But they share the same trait of (understanding how to block)...

"We saw some of those issues as, 'Is he the first person to leave the combine? No.  I think ultimately people will feel pretty good about him," said Alexander, who believes Smith will change the perception at Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium news conference.

Alexander said he was extremely influenced not only by the recommendations of Saban,  but also 'Bama offensive line coach Joe Pendry.

"I trust him a lot. If you know Joe, he never sugarcoats anything. He's not one to lie," Alexander said. "He said the kid was great."

Lewis said there were no trade offers "today," but also on the board was Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe.

"In terms or run blocking and pass-blocking ability, he was the one we wanted," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Or, as Alexander said after he came back from the Alabama Pro Day, "He can do two things. He can run block and pass block. He can't run around cones real well and don't let him, take his shirt off." 

When reached via conference call by the Cincinnati media at a hotel in his native Birmingham, Ala., Smith knew all about No. 71 and if he'd like to wear it. It turns out he has spent a lot of time with Anderson in Atlanta, where Smith also trains.

"It was a life lesson," Smith said. "I'm just looking forward to changing the perception of myself. "Just come in, you know you're going to get a guy that's going to bust his butt and work hard every single day."

One of the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place Tuesday night when Smith decided to go with agent Rick Smith and Priority Sports. Alexander indicated that decision greatly impressed the Bengals because Priority has a long history of representing first-class offensive linemen that includes Levi Jones' representation with Kenny Zuckerman.

Alexander knew that Rick Smith outlined to Andre what he needed to do if he was going to represent him.

"I told him we're used to being around elite offensive linemen (Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca) that get to meetings 15 minutes early, participate in the offseason program, are diligent when they're not in the building, control their weight with good nutrition, all those things," Rick Smith said. "I told him, 'I'm going to be on top of you until you're not satisfied until you go to the Pro Bowl and the Hall of Fame. He has that kind of talent.

"And he's responded beautifully," Smith said. "He just reacts well to a disciplined, structured environment."

Andre Smith knows all about No. 71. And he'd like to wear it and it is available.

"Yes, Mr. Willie Anderson," Smith said when asked who wore 71.  "I follow every great offensive lineman that ever played in NFL."

If that sounds like Anderson, he also advised Smith, "Just pay attention, listen to your coaches, have fun and do the same things in college as far as competing and trying to dominate everyone you play."

Smith has also met Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, and it came earlier this month when Smith flew back from a meeting with the Bengals and he sat across the aisle from him on a flight to San Diego.

And he made it clear he thinks he can protect his blindside at left tacke "because I was sitting on his left."

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