2-15-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
Eric Ball spent Thursday with Akili Smith and he wasn't surprised with what he found in San Diego.
"He's tearing himself up," said Ball, the Bengals director of player relations. " He's being harder on himself than what other people are saying about him. That's usually what people do in this situation and that's the way Akili is anyway."
Ball has been dispatched to San Diego to offer the club's support in wake of Smith's DUI last week and to be a sounding board for the Bengals' franchise quarterback who has virtually gone underground since last Thursday's arrest.
Even before the incident, Smith's family had expressed hope he would develop more personal relationships on the staff.
It's the kind of mission Ball envisioned when he took the job last summer.
"I figure this is a big reason why I was hired and it's a big reason I wanted to do it," Ball said. "To help guys when they need someone to talk to and help get them through the tough times. This is what other teams are doing."
Ball met Smith at his gym in the morning, went to lunch, and then
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hung around Smith's apartment. They hit on all issues surrounding a disappointing NFL career of two seasons, 15 starts, three victories and last year's benching.
"I wanted to let him open up and get everything off his chest and I thought he was in a good frame of mind," Ball said.
"It's an isolated incident. I don't think it's related to the frustration of the season," Ball said of the arrest. "He knows what he has to do. He's watched the tapes of all the games this year. He's looking forward to getting back to Cincinnati and start working out."
Ball is advising Smith not to talk to the media until after he appears in court March 1 on the charge of suspicion of DUI. But he is in contact with his coaches back in Cincinnati.
Smith has spoken to head coach Dick LeBeau at least twice and once to new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
"He had a good talk with Bob, and Dick says Bob will (visit Smith) at some point," Ball said. "He's looking forward to learning a new playbook and he thinks he can do well in the new offense."
Last month, Smith openly wondered if fans and the organization were still sticking by him. Ball said he carried one big message to the West Coast.
"That's what I wanted to let him know. That the people here are still with him," Ball said. "That people around the NFL still think he's got the talent to become the quarterback we all think he can be."