Education of No. 1


Andre Smith

Posted: 8 a.m.

For a 350-pound man the Bengals would like to see transform his "body type," No. 1 pick Andre Smith has practiced well enough to stay out of sight during his first month on an NFL field.

"He hasn't been the rookie that jumps offside or holds, or gets beat," said quarterback Carson Palmer this week of his right tackle after the final voluntary session. "He's the rookie you don't really notice. When you don't notice offensive linemen, that's good."

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, of course, has noticed everything. He has seen a typical rookie progression.

"There's the speed of the game. It's completely different. Even for guy like Andre that played against so many great ones in the Southeastern Conference. It's a whole other jump from there," Alexander said. "All college players have to adjust to that and he'll adjust to it. And he's still a young guy and he'll get stronger and get better in all areas."

Smith won't be able to stay anonymous much longer.

For one thing, the mandatory minicamp is coming next weekend, June 18-20 to be exact.

And for another, the man drafted a slot ahead of him at No. 5, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, recently agreed (according to ProFootballTalk.com) to a five-year, $60 million contract in which $28 million is guaranteed.

With PFT reporting a 56-percent increase over what last year's No. 5 got, don't look for the Bengals to be ready to embrace a similar quarterback deal for an offensive lineman now or in July.

It's too early to bring storm clouds to training camp because while the Bengals are a bit perplexed by Smith, they do like what they've got. Maybe another reason he has made no news is because he has been as advertised.

He's bright and football heady on the field, the Bengals coaches say, and he's ahead of the typical rookie's learning curve as well as being explosive straight ahead. They think his adjustment from college left tackle to pro right tackle is going as planned.

Off the field he's been unpredictable after reportedly returning to his original agent less than a month after firing him,

"He has his days where he struggles, but he bounces back and has a good day; he's a good football player," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "He's in a new system going against new people and going against a higher level of people day after day. He has his ups and downs. ... I've seen people have a lot harder time (moving sides). Every day he gets more comfortable."

The coaches would like to see him mold his body differently via conditioning and nutrition, a process they know will take more than two months.

"He's got to continue to work on it," Bratkowski said. "He's got to change his body type. He just has to stay consistent going into the weight room, making sure his weight stays down with good strength. He can play as he is now, but it's long-term stuff. You want him to progress and become a top level player and in order to do that he has to really monitor his physical condition."

Alexander: "That's part of the whole maturity issue that we're looking at. There's all kind of areas in his football and life that he's growing in all directions. He just needs some consistent direction."

Alexander is going to give it to him. Whether he's going to be doing it at training camp is a question of contract, always dicey in the top 10. Although of the last three Bengals top 10s (Levi Jones in 2002, Carson Palmer in 2003 and Keith Rivers in 2008), only Rivers held out and that was less than a week.

But with the uncertain economy and the even more uncertain CBA, these negotiations are being held in different times.

What Alexander does know is that the omnipresent cameras of HBO and NFL Films for Hard Knocks are going to be there and he's got some worries.

"I'm concerned I'm going to be limited the way I coach in front of a camera," Alexander said. "When the camera is running, they're not going to see the real thing because I believe my relationship with players is confidential. There's a trust that a player and coach has with the words they use. When there are moments that have to get real and personal, I'll throw a towel over the camera.

"I have no intention of putting on a Broadway performance this summer in training camp. I've got a lot of work in front of me. I've got a whole new line. I like all of our guys, but I don't like their experience and somehow we have to get them experience."

Exhibit A is Smith. The progression continues.

"He has his moments of growth and he has leveling off periods," Alexander says. "What he has are growth spurts."

MORE OCHO: Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's second practice of the year on Thursday yielded some nice plays: A 25-yard double move past cornerback Leon Hall along with a block on cornerback David Jones on wide receiver Antonio Chatman's screen.

"Could have been holding," Bratkowski said with a smile, but his teammates haven't been holding back in praising Ochocinco's first week back.

Try one of the guys that has been covering him.

"He's got a lot more explosion than he had last year at this time," said cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "He's coming back to the ball as sharp as I've seen him. The comeback and the deep in cut are his two signature routes that he makes a living off of. Those are the two hardest routes to cover in the league. You put the ball in the spot, you really can't stop it."

Clearly the biggest difference between this June and last June for The Ocho, besides the fact he's been lifting and running, is that his ankle is healthy. Last year the Bengals wanted him to get arthroscopic surgery right after the '07 season to remove bone spurs, but he opted not to do it until after the mandatory minicamp.

But physically isn't the only difference, they say.

"He seems hungry and wants to get the job done," Joseph said. "It's more like he knows what he needs to do to get the job done, and he's been there before."

NEXT WEEKEND: When the Bengals go through their last five workouts without pads next weekend in the mandatory minicamp, Bratkowski said the Bengals would have put in 85 percent of his renovated playbook.

"For the benefit of the young people, we're going to say, 'Let's reinstall everything we've gone through,' and teach it like they've never heard it before to reinforce and (iron out) the finer points," he said. "We may add one or two things, but mostly it's going to be reinstallation of the concepts we started in the first OTA and on."

In the final voluntary workout Thursday, Bratkpwski rolled out a couple of gadgets, but they aren't set in stone.

"We're out there as coaches experimenting and we have to see the adjustments that have to be made," said Bratkowski of seeing how the defense reacts. For instance, he said, they may have to make changes ranging from blocking schemes to alignment of receivers.

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