Andre Smith stopped to talk Thursday before he got on a stairmaster for about 30 minutes during his lunch hour. He planned to take another spin on it after practice and there was a chance he would break a sweat on some other machines tonight at home.
Sporting a Mohawk fade to honor his eight-year-old brother's decision and a full beard from his days at Alabama, Smith is not looking or sounding like the bloated, ambivalent bust he is alleged to be. He hears the rips.
"Does it motivate me?" he asked. "Yes it does. I want to prove the naysayers wrong."
Smith's weight is right there with his social security number. Only family and his employer seem to know it, but all indications are is that he's easily below the Rubicon of 350 pounds. By all accounts he's hitting the machines with his iPod and the film room with offensive line coach Paul Alexander and admits he's a better pro than he was last year trying to become an NFL right tackle.
"Being a student. Meeting with Paul every opportunity to watch film. Being a pro," Smith said. "In college, you watch film and you're more athletic than most guys, but in the NFL you have to watch film and I've been doing that a lot more and it's translating over to playing on Sundays."
He hasn't been out there much on Sundays. A holdout, a broken foot, offseason surgery and conditioning problems have severely cut into Smith's practice time and made him a platoon player. After getting benched two weeks ago in Carolina, he rotated with Dennis Roland last week and appeared to have the better day. But it wasn't without a screwup. He let his man get through on the blocked field goal, a lapse he says won't happen again but one that crystallizes the team's dilemma with him.
"He's back in shape now. Now he's got to get some snaps. It's like a rookie year for him," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Physically, the more and more action he sees I'm sure the more comfortable he'll get. I think he's a talented guy. There's never been any question about that. It's going to be up to him to get in the game and perform. He's had limited snaps here and there and he needs to prove he deserves more."
Smith excited the Bengals with his play at the end of last season when he played, at most, about 30 snaps in each of the last 10 games. His lower body strength and ability to anchor in the running game became obvious, but when his broken foot didn't heal and he needed surgery he didn't get back on the field until August and brought a lot of extra weight with him. If published reports were accurate, he's dropped about 30 pounds.
Whatever, he says he's close to the guy the draftnicks loved until he took off his shirt.
"Just getting back to dominating my run blocking and being a good pass blocker as well; extremely close," Smith said. "Just working on my technique. Build trust back in my foot and continue to work hard."
Willie Anderson, the former Bengals Pro Bowl right tackle who worked with the right tackles last week, came away impressed with Smith's intelligence. Enough that he said Smith's work ethic gets a bad rap. Anderson talked to Smith not only about the mechanics of the position, but things he needs to do off the field to watch the weight.
"Stay on top of it," Smith said.
Anderson thinks Smith simply needs snaps. In practice and games.
"It's getting to that point where there's definitely a lot more good than bad," Whitworth said. "I feel like he's passionate about it and wants to do well, but it's a process. It's going to take him going out there and use the same energy he used to get back in shape. He's going to have to apply that now to his craft. Being really good technically and preparing for guys that are preparing to play him."
At first glance, Smith would seem to be one of the more immediate panaceas for a running game that is churning it at just 3.3 yards per game. The coaches are comfortable with having what they view as versatile tight ends rather than a fullback and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said after Thursday's practice that defenses are gearing their alignments to stop concepts and not individual players.
Bratkowski says it's unfair to trace the rushing numbers to the lack of a fullback. Last year, the fullback played about 28 percent of the snaps while the Bengals moved to playing mostly double tight ends while sprinkling in Jeremi Johnson. Bratkowski likes how tight end Reggie Kelly can block both at fullback and on the line and "you certainly don't want to do that," and take rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham off the field, Bratkowski says.
"I think we're going to be fine with the way we are set up," he said.
The Bengals hope Smith is a big part of it. Whitworth likes the sounds of Smith's vow against the naysayers. It is the sound of motivation.
"That's what you want," Whitworth said."You've got to have that attitude to be successful."
RED ZONE TAKE: Bratkowski on the Bengals being 12 for their last 37 scoring TDs in the red zone:
"In order to be a good red-zone team, you have to be able to run the ball. You have to be angry and knock them off the ball and make yards. If you've got those third downs, you're talking about third-and-three and fours rather than third-and-10s. When you get those third-and-10s the field is compressed. You can't take the top off a coverage. We've had some penalties down there that have put us in third-and-long and those are probably the two most critical factors."
The Bengals running in the red zone this season? A total of 13 carries for 29 yards.
AGELESS: We know that at 36, wide receiver Terrell Owens became the oldest player to have more than 200 yards receiving in a game. Which makes him the oldest Bengal to have a 100-yard game. The second oldest? Isaac Curtis at age 33 and a month when he went for 114 against the Dolphins in 1983.
The Ocho in this year's opener is the third at age 32, eight months.
Next? The Ocho was 31 years and nearly 11 months when he had 137 against the Lions last year. And he was 31 and nine months when he went back-to-back against the Texans and Bears. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was 31 years and nearly two months when he had 149 against the Eagles in 2008. The Ocho has done it four times after turning 30. Houshmandzadeh also did it four.