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Mr. Smith goes to Cincy

Smith finally ended his holdout and joined the Bengals on Sunday. (Bengals photo)

Posted: 7 a.m.

When the Bengals went to New Orleans to open the preseason earlier this month, Andre Smith texted Andrew Whitworth something along the lines of  "Ur home, do Ur thing."

After arriving at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, Smith said he felt like he had arrived back home. This time, Whitworth gladly, but cautiously, welcomed him.

"You've got to figure he's on Day 1 and the rest of us are on Day 31; it's a big difference," Whitworth said. "The strides we've made as a team and individually in 30 days, he's 30 days behind."

And so after his standoff with the team ended in an intriguing contract that can be as short as four years at $26 million or as long as six years at $50 million at the club's option, Smith made sure Day 1 was longer than everybody else's.

He was all set to go to a drag race in Atlanta on Saturday night, but when agent Alvin Keels called him and said the deal was close enough for him to pack his bags, he was careening to Cincinnati on Sunday morning and suddenly on the crash course to get ready.

"Really, I don't think I'm that far behind," he said. "(But) there is a difference between workout shape and football shape."

Smith didn't do much at practice Sunday because the nooks and crannies of a complex contract laden with options and escalators didn't get smoothed out until about 25 minutes before the players stretched.

"It was basically observation," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He didn't know which plays we were running."

But after it was over Smith pounded the elliptical machine fairly easily for about half an hour and after some classroom work he didn't leave until after 9 p.m.

Day 1 would quickly become Day 2 with Monday afternoon's practice looming.

No surprise really, since Alexander had warned the media, "You better get him now," because he was about to submerge Smith in so much work, "There's going to be no social time."

So Smith strapped on his 150-watt smile and went about the business of forgetting the business.

"Just get back to football; get past the business and all the contract talk," said Smith about what he's looking forward to doing the most. "The thing I love to do: Go out and compete and have fun."

He's a hard kid not to like. He's polite, accessible, eager. A good egg. Asked if he ever thought the deal would get done, he said, "You've got to keep the faith."

Faith in who he was asked.

"God. Jesus," he said.

Characterizing the deal?

"Good," he said. "Even ground."

Smith was the butt of a very unkind portrayal of himself during the Bengals rookie show the night they broke camp and he heard every laugh because the nation saw it on Hard Knocks.

The rookies reenacted his now infamous pre-draft workout at the University of Alabama in which he ran the 40-yard draft with his shirt off. They also staged their take on his workout that appeared on the show in the first episode in which there was some heavy breathing after a pass blocking drill.

"It was great humor; you can take it for what it is," Smith said. "You can be a butthole about it or just laugh at it. So I decided to laugh."

Head coach Marvin Lewis, sitting next to Smith at Sunday's post-practice news conference, had to admit, "I laughed" but, "Everybody gets laughed at. That's what the rookie show is for. You get laughed at if you're there or not there."

"Good clean fun," Smith decided, but the next few weeks are decidedly not going to be fun.

Alexander does not see right tackle Willie Anderson the 10th pick in 1996. Or left tackle Levi Jones, the 10th pick in 2002. Or left guard Eric Steinbach, the 33rd pick in 2003.

Anderson, whose holdout was about a week shorter than Smith's, made his first start in the seventh game. Jones, who didn't miss a practice, made his first start in the fifth game. Steinbach, who missed a couple of days, started the opener.

But Alexander said Smith is behind where Anderson was and says he's "not going to start any time soon" at right tackle, where Anthony Collins has been working since Day 1 after backing up both tackle spots when Smith was here during the spring. The coaches want to get a better handle on Smith's conditioning before they let him loose in practice. While he doesn't look grossly overweight, Alexander also said, "I do think it going to be an issue with him that he's going to have to take charge of."

There is also the matter of a two-week roster exemption. If the Bengals play Smith in Thursday's preseason finale or the Sept. 13 opener, they immediately lose the exemption. Lewis said he'll decide if Smith will play Thursday either the day before or day of the game. But the Bengals may want to have that extra spot when they cut down to 53 on Sept. 5.

"It's impossible," Alexander said of getting Smith in there quickly. "I'm not afraid to put rookies in there, but this guy is so far behind, he's got so much work to do ... it's going to be an intense year for him."

There is some solace for Alexander. With the Georgetown grit done, he can devote more time to Smith.

"In some respects it was OK," Alexander said. "There's such a new group as it is that down in Georgetown we were able to emphasize just on the new group. Now that they're kind of getting settled a little bit, I can put my effort towards him. Which in some respects it's OK because if I was getting the whole group ready and getting him ready, the others wouldn't be where they are now."

And it's not like Smith is coming in clueless. Not only did he start every spring practice, but the coaches emailed Smith the classroom sessions from every day at training camp and would give him tests. When they started installing game plans for the preseason games, he would watch the games following along with the playbook.

"I could watch the game and learn if they made mistakes," Smith said, "and see what was the right choice they should have made."

But, as Whitworth said, there's going to be more to it than that. Sunday was the first time Smith had ever worn pads as a Bengal.

"I definitely don't think he'll help right away," Whitworth said. "He has to learn the plays. He has to learn the scheme. He never even got a chance to put the pads on in OTAs."

But Whitworth is going to help him and Smith says he's been texting Whitworth and the other guys on the line since camp started. He says the camaraderie is what he missed the most and his biggest challenge to recapture.

"Probably catching up with the rest of the team, the tempo," he said of that biggest challenge. "Already the guys have great camaraderie together. They've been together for three weeks. They have all their timing down. I think I'm in pretty decent shape. I feel like I missed the camaraderie with my teammates. We all have each other's back and I've been missing that."

Whitworth and friends know they have a massively talented guy here at 6-5, 350 or so pounds. It's too bad the team can't alternate Collins and Smith. While he tries to improve in the running game, Collins has been impressive protecting the passer. Smith is known as a run blocker supreme.

"Everybody knows Andre's a great run blocker. He's great at the point of attack. He can move people," Whitworth said. "He's going to have to learn the pass-protection game and realize that's part of the game. He can definitely help us in the running part of the game and he's definitely a good athlete, so we're excited just to see his progression."

In the games they came off the bench before they started games, Anderson and Jones broke in as extra tight ends. Alexander won't say how he'll use Smith, but he also said he's not concerned about breaking up chemistry if it helps win games.

"The ultimate decision is you do what helps you win the game that Sunday," Alexander said. "If we think he can help us in certain things, we'll use him. Ultimately it's up to him and up to us how quickly he can develop."

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