Ripping up draft day red flags

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Andre Smith has big plans after a big offseason.

Even before Bengals strength and conditioning magnate Chip Morton opens his new weight room in ten days, Andre Smith's off-season regimen has reached legendary proportions.

Machine gun feet. Python arms. Cross-country chest. The agility drills look almost balletic and mesh with what has been called perfect football technique.

Indeed, the Andre Smith Workout Video has gone viral on the Paul Brown Stadium iPads that matter, like those of head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who says it's like watching a tap dancer click through the bags.

A very large tap dancer. A very large tap dancer who also happens to be one of the NFL's best right tackles when he's healthy. And with his torn triceps healing at a rapid enough rate,  making the start of training camp should be no problem. He's healthy.

And when the workout reached the bluegrass button of University of Kentucky basketball strength coach Ray "Rock," Oliver, he was one and done.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing, so I went and got last year's video and put them side by side,' Oliver said this week. "I asked him, 'What the heck are you doing?' They're two different guys. His body fat is down, he's got more muscle. He's transformed himself. He's doing what they want, which is working on more explosion. He's mimicking what Chip is going to have him doing up there in a couple of weeks."

Oliver's last season as Morton's associate head strength and conditioning coach was Smith's rookie year in 2009. But the two have stayed close, in part because they like each other and, in part, because the NFL's 2011 collective bargaining agreement bars players from having anything to do with their coaches until the off-season conditioning programs begin in late April. Oliver, who says he's Smith's "step uncle," took a minute to realize what he had watched.

"A pro," he said. "That's what a pro does."

The draft pundits never would have dared utter that six years ago today, three weeks before the 2009 draft, an exercise cluttered with the red flags burying Smith, from his weight, to his work habits, to his maturity. His topless 40-yard-dash at Alabama became a social media punch line.

Maybe a good object lesson for this time of year.

The Bengals believed in Smith's talent at a premium position above everything else and took him with the sixth pick. After the Rams took Baylor tackle Jason Smith with the second pick. And before the Jaguars took Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe at No. 8 and the Ravens took Mississippi tackle Michael Oher No. 26.

Monroe is working on his second team, Oher just signed with his third, and Jason Smith hasn't taken a snap since 2012. Smith, 28, has 59 starts on five play-off teams.

"He was the most talented of that group for sure,' said Alexander, who told Smith when he arrived he would be his toughest challenge in coaching.  "It's nice over the long haul he's turned out to be the best of that group. He had loads of ability. He just had to dedicate himself to what was required and in the last several years he's done that. I'm proud of him."

Cynics would call it a contract year. But Smith first turned the corner before his third season, during the 2011 lockout that would mirror the CBA. He'd have to train on his own. Smith would call it maturity.

"When I've been injured, I've come back overweight. I'm not the same 'Dre," Smith said Thursday from his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. "I'm more mature, I'm older. It's just my age."

There is also pride involved here. In 2012, profootballfocus.com rated him the league's best right tackle. In 2013 the web site ranked him sixth. Last year, when he rebounded from a mid-season slump to play well and then saw his season cut short by seven games, he barely made the top 20.

"My desire. I want to be great. I want the team to be great," Smith said. "And it's not going to help if I come back out of shape. It's hard to keep getting out of shape and then work to get back in shape. It's easier to maintain."

Smith is just what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is looking for as he builds on what unfolded in 2014. He's looking for more toughness and physicality from his leaders and Smith brings what Alexander says is "the premier double teaming tackle in the league. Between him and (right guard Kevin) Zeitler, no one double teams like those two guys do."

Oliver can get downright musical when he talks about Smith's run blocking.

"It's like listening to Bach," Oliver said of the push. "He's so big and the way he moves, he's an elephant. In the jungle, the lions are not coming near the elephants, and it's a jungle. When it's time to advance and you got guys coming back from not advancing and they're coming back with a vengeance, that's a good sign."

Just like in '09, Smith doesn't have much to say about the pundits. But that doesn't mean he didn't hear the jokes and the naysayers and the derision.

"I got wrapped up in that a little bit," Smith said. "But what it comes down to is you can't let yourself be that person that they want you to be. You have to be yourself and you have to listen to yourself. I want to be a pro. That's what it comes down to. Being known as a pro."

Maybe a good object lesson for this time of year after a guy like Smith has ripped the red flags to shreds.

"Those people who said he'd eat himself out of the league,' Oliver said, "have to eat their words."

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