From no factor to X factor

9-26-02, 11:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Akili Smith figures this next stretch of football that starts Sunday is going to determine his fate for 2003 and 2004.

"If play well, I stay," Smith says. "If I don't, maybe they get rid of me."

About 72 hours before his first home start in nearly two years, Smith sat down with bengals.com audio to say:

With two years left on his contract, Gus Frerotte working on a one-year deal, and a batch of first-round quarterbacks looming in the April draft, Smith says his future is now.

"(The future) is going to be determined by how well I play. How I finish up. If it's going to be as a Bengal or if I go elsewhere."

Smith thinks he surprised the coaches with his play in the preseason even though he had fewer snaps than Frerotte and Jon Kitna during summer practice.

"I got some snaps at camp, but all my snaps came in the preseason (games) with the coaches keeping Kitna and Frerotte away from injury figuring that Akili Smith would't even be a factor. If you look into it, that's

exactly what the situation was. I wasn't a factor. They wanted to keep Kitna and Frerotte fresh. They didn't want to get them too hurt. That's why they got all the reps in practice and not that many in the game."

Smith isn't looking to generate a record-breaking performance against the Pro Bowl studded Buccaneers' defense. He simply seeks a calm competent performance to match the Bengals' defense and he figures that gives his club a shot to win.

"My attitude in this whole situation coming up this Sunday is we haven't (done) anything really on offense. We've averaged close to five, six points a game. If I can get a couple of touchdowns on the board, 17 points or something like that, heck, that's spark enough for the offense right there. That's my goal, to get some touchdowns on the board and just show something different at quarterback."

It's been quite a road since that last PBS start on Nov. 26, 2000, a 48-28 loss to the Steelers. He's very much aware he's gone from goat to hero with the help of that swashbuckling preseason.

"It makes me feel real good going through everything I've been through," Smith said. "Being booed off the field to now the fans wanting me back on the field. It feels good to know I'm wanted back out there. Hopefully I can deliver this weekend."

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