6-13-03, 11:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Akili Smith, once the Bengals' franchise quarterback, now hopes to succeed Brett Favre as the Packers' franchise quarterback. Smith said Friday he agreed to a one-year deal, but sees the Green Bay venture as a multi-year proposition depending on Favre's status.
"I would have been stupid to pass it up," Smith said. "After Favre, they don't have one guy they can look to yet, so my hope is to take over the team once Brett steps down."
Smith said he has kept in touch with Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna since his release 11 days ago, and wonders about a possible Green Bay-Cincinnati Super Bowl down the road as a punctuation point to his NFL career that began as the third pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
"Kit and I have been encouraging each other. We've been talking once a week," Smith said. "I could see our teams making it some point. They seem to have turned it around there and Jon is coming off a great year and Carson (Palmer) is going to be a good one. And you've got the tradition in Green Bay of winning. It would be great, wouldn't it?"
Tradition, Favre, and an inexperienced quarterback pool were the major reasons Smith chose Green Bay over the Saints and Jets. Favre is a future Hall-of-Famer who turns 34 this season but hasn't shown much evidence of slowing down after leading the NFC with 27 touchdown passes. Also on the club is 35-year-old Doug Pederson, a solid NFL Europe player in Craig Nall, and former Nebraska standout Eric Crouch , who has never played quarterback in the league. Also in the mix is Zak Kustok, a first-year player.
In its conference call with Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley, the Green Bay media seemed a bit perplexed at the move and tried to get a grasp how much of a chance Smith has in a training camp in which he is faced with a strange playbook.
After watching Smith work out Wednesday, the Packers decided he had enough left from his marvelous senior year at Oregon in 1998 to take a shot. Smith's camp had targeted Green Bay because of the presence of Favre even before the Bengals released him.
"You still see a very good athlete. He's got a strong arm. Akili brings a lot to the table," Hatley said. "Anytime you can get competition, it makes you a better football team. Akili will come in here and compete with the quarterbacks.
"He had a good workout. You can tell he's been out awhile, but he's a good, young prospect," Hatley said.
Hatley said it's too early to make a call on the future with Favre, but the 12-year veteran has talked retirement the past couple of years. Smith said even if Favre returned in '04, he said he would probably return.
"There was too much there to pass up," said Smith, who also visited the Jets and Saints. "Three or four Sunday and Monday night games, Favre, the tradition, the success. I'm really happy about it.
"Just by walking into the place, you can tell there's a different kind of aura," Smith said. "They've won so much for so long. And to be involved in three or four prime-time games, that's the kind of thing you want to be involved with."
Smith said he's headed to Green Bay next week for a crash course in a system he says has no similarities to what he ran in Cincinnati. Asked what happened to Smith in Cincinatti, Hatley said he has no idea.
"I don't think you can wonder what happened to him in Cincinnati," Hatley said. "I just think you have to coach him up and into your system. Every team is different. Every offense is different. The big thing is he wanted to be here. To be around a great quarterback, maybe the greatest ever is a big plus for a young quarterback."
Hatley calls him a "good young prospect," but while Smith, 27, is six years younger than Favre, he's also three years older than Crouch and four years older than Nall.
"I'm anxious to get to a new place an get started with the playbook," Smith said.
ESPN.com reported that Smith got $15,000 to sign, but he said he didn't get anything up front and expected to make the minimum $530,000 this season, the same he would have made in Cincinnati.
QBs CLICK: Akili Smith almost became a Saint, but Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is in heaven with his quarterbacks situation heading into training camp.
For the first time in his three seasons here, Bratkowski has a defined pecking order. Jon Kitna is the established No. 1, Shane Matthews is the savvy No. 2, and with Carson Palmer, "we've got an extremely talented rookie. I'm very, very pleased with the makeup of the quarterback situation right now."
Although he signed just six days before this week's minicamp, Matthews showed why he earns his money. A NFL quarterback can get the ball to his receivers accurately and quickly even if he doesn't know all of their first names.
"He looked like what he is," Bratkowski said. "A smart 10-year guy."
Palmer has also been as advertised, and if that
meant he looked bad on one play throwing an interception for a touchdown to a defensive end, it also meant he looked good at times with a powerful arm that got the ball to places faster and farther downfield in recent memory.
"He got better every day," Bratkowski said.
Here's how Palmer and Bratkowski broke down that interception by Duane Clemons near the end of Tuesday afternoon's practice against a blitz. It wasn't the throw, or the decision to throw, it was the tardiness of the read.
"It won't happen again," Palmer said. "It was a stupid play. It was an exotic blitz I had never seen before. I've got to get it out of my hands and not take the sack. It's the first time they did anything out of a three-man front. The protection changed during the play because they were shifting, but I've got to make that read quicker. I'll be better prepared by game time."
The Bengals have been quite pleased with how Palmer has progressed learning the offense. At some point they know he will have seen everything and by then they hope he'll be able to respond by getting rid of the ball if a play breaks down so there is no sack or turnover.
"Working from one side of the blitz and then back to the other way, you can't do that," Bratkowski said. "He worked one side and if he knows that doesn't work, he's got to get rid of it and throw it out-of-bounds."