Posted: 3:05 a.m.
Andre Smith stands Sunday on the field he will soon take for the first time and it sounds like he's been there as long as his 22 years as he explained how he gave up his one sack this season to the University of Kentucky.
"My fault," he says. "I was on the wide three technique with the tight end and I was expecting a (stunt). They didn't do it. They went straight up the field on the rush. I learned from it. It didn't happen again."
You want to make this baby-faced man-child comfortable? Andre The Giant, the body of work that is entrusted with saving the face of the franchise?
Just talk football.
"I love football to death," he says.
Ask him who are his favorite and best tackles and he decides on Walter Jones over Chris Samuels.
"Walter can do everything. Run block and pass block and he's so smooth and flowing the way he does everything," says Smith, before he's asked about where fellow Alabaman and Bengals tackle Willie Anderson rates.
"Willie-eee," says Smith with delight. "Probably the number (four) guy behind Walter, Samuels, Jonathan Ogden."
Any football, he'll talk it.
He wears No. 71 because of "the guy from USC. Not (Anthony) Munoz. The guy who played with Jacksonville. Right, Tony Boselli. I just liked the way he played, so I took the number."
Any football topic.
He remembers sitting on a Saturday watching a show called "Countdown to Saturday," and asking his dad which position made the most money. He was told quarterbacks and then left tackles.
"Well, I'm playing left tackle," he said, "and from that day forward I've been playing it."
Maybe Smith likes talking football because that's what people are finally talking about when it comes to him. No longer are they mesmerized by what was called the Andre Smith Train Wreck that began with his suspension from the Sugar Bowl because of illegal contact with an agent, was punctuated by his abrupt departure from the scouting combine, and ended last month with his topless 40-yard dash at Alabama's Pro Day that showed all the world that he didn't have a body of marble.
"I got caught up in the hype. My teammates took off their shirts. I'll take mine off, too," he is saying, seven pounds overweight at 337 in the Bengals locker room, mixing easily with the media that took him apart pound by pound the previous three months.
Asked if offensive linemen are cursed to have bad bodies, he cracked, "Some of us. Some of us look good. I wish I could be one of those guys. I'm trying to change my body type right now. If I wasn't here, I'd be working out."
At his first Paul Brown Stadium news conference Sunday, Smith mused about his growing pains making national news. Later, he elaborated with the wit of a high school GPA of 3.0 and an ACT score of 21 that was good enough to get love letters from the Ivy of Columbia.
"You learn stuff with your parents and you keep it in house; no one knows about it," Smith says. "But I left the combine and everybody knows about it. I didn't go through the proper command. It was a lesson I learned from. I won't do it again."
He admitted he turned off the TV when the crush of criticism was so bad.
"I read a lot more books," he says. "I just read a book about the Outland Trophy and the previous winners and about how small a guy was and how big we are now."
Smith, wearing the same tan suit he wore to accept the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman, says he's back to watching TV again. But he says the reason he left is because he figured since he wasn't working out at the combine, "I didn't just want to stay around and be a bump on a log. I wanted to go back and get ready for my Pro Day."
If Smith doesn't sound too far off from your 22-year-old, he's not. Just ask two pretty important women in his life.
"Andre is a fun young man," says his mother, Nesa, on the way to her weekly worship service at More Than Conquerors Faith Church in their hometown of Birmingham, Ala., where Andre has performed in the chorus and acted out Biblical scenes.
"He's funny and when he smiles, hmmm, he's got a great smile," says Chryste Gaines, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist sprinter who is his speed coach. "And he's a good listener."
Gaines has proof, ironically, from that Titanic of a Pro Day. While everyone was leering at his stomach, she was watching his form and she thought it was just about perfect for a football player turned sprinter.
"It's two different things," Gaines says. "But I've been working with him since February and his angles were so good. He had everything in place. I timed him at 4.8, 4.9 (in the the 40-yard dash), but they time it differently in football. In track they stop when the plane is broken, but in football the whole body has to be over (the line). They had him about 5.2, 5.3."
Still pretty good for a very large man that is known as the most powerful run blocker in the nation. Gaines is part of Team Andre based in Atlanta's notoriously old school Ropeman's Gym under the direction of personal trainer Ty Felder and aided by former long-time NFL tackle Tony Jones.
"My regimen wasn't tough enough," Smith says of the reason he switched gyms right around the combine.
His mother says the biggest misnomer she heard during the fracas was that her son was immature and she recalled her son's decision to go to Alabama.
"He visited USC, Miami, LSU. Alabama was the last place he went to," she says. "He wanted to stay close to his church and his family. It's only about an hour or so drive."
Gaines has no doubt seen some prima donnas in her day. But she doesn't see it here.
"Andre's very coachable," she says. "And I think he'll absorb the leadership of the veterans."
Just how fun is he?
He has everyone smiling when he says in front of the lights that he considers the quarterback like his mother. Then as he's walking around the field, he says he hopes Carson Palmer doesn't take offense.
"It's all for the good," he says.
He's been saying it since high school.
"I think it makes him play better when he sees me back there," Nesa says.
"What would make a guy more angry than anything?" he asks. "For a person to hit his mother, right? So that's how I feel. That's why whenever John Parker (Wilson) got hit, I used to get so angry. And there are so many pictures of me lifting him up off the ground because I hated to see him on the ground."
But Andre Smith Jr., says he's not a momma's boy, but his father's boy.
"Don't believe it," Nesa Smith said. "He's a momma's boy."
It was his daddy who told him about the money, but he knows the Bengals haven't decided if he's going to play left or right tackle.
"It doesn't matter," he says. "I just want to get on the field. That's up to Coach Lewis and Coach Alexander where they want me to play."
He looks around the stadium and he says, "I like it. I love it. Can't wait to play in it," and he politely says the backdrop of the buildings in the far end zone from the Bengals locker room reminds him of "Bryant-Denny" back home.
But it always gets back to the field. Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst, asks Smith the toughest guy he went against during his college career.
"Robert Ayers," he says with no hesitation of the Tennessee titan. "It's my fault though. Bad set. Overset. Give him the inside move."
He can work on it soon enough. The first rookie practice is Friday.
Look for No. 71.
"I love football," he is saying as he heads back into the tunnel for the next interview.