4-21-01, 12:40 p.m.
Updated: 4-21-01, 4:30 p.m.
The Bengals haven't had a double-digit sacker in nine seasons since Alfred Williams rung up 10 for the 1992 Bengals. Justin Smith, the newest Bengal, thinks he's got a shot.
"I know it's the NFL and I know it's a whole new level," Smith said Saturday after the Bengals took him with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. "But that's what I'm shooting for. That's my goal. To help this team and be as productive as possible."
The 6-4, 270-pound defensive end from Missouri made as much news Saturday with his intangibles as his athleticism. He admitted, "I'm not a suit guy," which is why he showed up at the GQ NFL Draft festivities in cowboy boots.
That's just fine, because his defensive line coach, Tim Krumrie, has never worn a tie on Draft Day since he got the job in 1995. That's because he never had to meet the media as the position coach of the team's first draft pick. By the time of the draft's 15th pick, Krumrie's tie was gone, but his first first-rounder was still here.
"I like his boots, he's a good guy," Smith said of his new coach. "It doesn't matter if he's wearing sandals. He's a good guy."
That's the point. Smith isn't a sandal guy. He's a boot guy. He sounds like he's not here to walk on the beach. Asked about the possibility of the huge AFC Central Division left tackles running the ball at him, Smith said, "I hope they do. I welcome it. I expect them to do it and I feel I can stop the run."
They like the kid's style. It's a lot like Krumrie's. Flannel shirts. Jeans. Boots. Bring it on.
What exactly did Smith say as he got the Krumrie treatment at the Missouri workout? The Krumrie treatment is three severely physical wrestling matches as Krumrie judged his explosion and speed after getting tired. And judging the attitude and mouth.
"He didn't say anything," Krumrie said. "He's respectful to who he should be respectful to."
Ask him about being compared to Mike Mamula. He offers some vinegar and fire. Mamula is another defensive end who was a high draft pick. But he's remembered more for being a workout wonder instead of a productive player.
"They can shove those (comparisons)," Smith said. "That s not me. . .When I decided to come out, it's because they broke down my tape and showed how I played, not by my numbers. I don't even pay attention to that crap. I'm going to play hard, play good, play fast. I'm not going to be the next Mamula."
The Bengals don't think he's the next Dan Wilkinson, their last first-round defensive lineman who struggled because of down-to-down intensity.
They also like the fact he'll play the same position here that he played at Missouri. He'll line up away from the tight end, which means he can move to either side.
"The only time he might be set is on third down," Krumrie said. "If he's comfortable rushing from the right side, we'll keep him there."
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau was thrilled with the pick. Maybe because he coached Krumrie.
"I love Krumrie-like guys," LeBeau said. "I'd dearly love a few more. He's a quick, agile, big guy, so you have to figure our percentages just got better getting off the field on third down."
Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner said the club expects Smith to start at the "elephant," end position that calls for him to play on either side. Calling him the most athletic lineman he worked out in the country, Duffner hopes Smith can revive a pass rush that had an AFC- low 26 sacks last season, second fewest in the NFL.
The 6-4, 270-pound Smith racked up 22.5 sacks in three seasons at Missouri, 11 coming in a junior season he also had 24 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals think Smith has the quickness to get
around the huge left tackles in the AFC Central, such as Baltimore's 335-pound Jonathan Ogden and Jacksonville's 320-pound Tony Boselli.
They also like Smith's relentless intensity pursuing the passer and his place on the Big 12 All- Academic team. He holds the Missouri school record with a 500-pound power clean, bench presses 500, and squats 715.
"His productivity, coupled with his athleticism, coupled with his fit in terms of doing the same position makes him a real exciting addition," Duffner said. "We really like his work ethic, his character. He's built a reputation on that Missouri and is a real fierce competitor."
The Bengals believe he's just the right size for what is needed to beat the big tackles nowadays. The AFC sack leaders last season, Miami defensive ends Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor, weighed 270 and 260 pounds respectively. Kansas City defensive end Eric Hicks had 14 sacks with 278 pounds and Tennessee's Jevon Kearse had 11.5 sacks at 6-4 and 265 pounds.
"It's speed and technique. You need a little bit of both," Duffner said. "He's as big, if not bigger, than some of the most productive pass rushers in the league. Size is not a real negative with him. He's been productive against the best in college football."
It's too early to say if the drafting of Smith means that veterans John Copeland, Vaughn Booker and the recently signed Kevin Henry are going to compete at the other end.
LeBeau said Henry will play over the tight end, but Copeland and Booker have played over both sides.
"We're going to be rotating more now," LeBeau said.
Krumrie, a 10th-round pick in 1983, came to the Bengals from small Mondovi, Wis., and the University of Wisconsin. Smith is Missouri all the way, growing up in Jefferson City and working on his family's dairy farm.
When he was eight years old, Smith and his heifer, Bubbles, won at the 4-H Show at the Missouri State Fair.
"He's a very competitive guy," Duffner said. "We expect him to come in and play all three downs."
So does Smith, who says he has no qualms about coming to a struggling franchise.
"I welcome it. That's why they draft players," Smith said. "They give those teams the better players and that's my job. To help make the team better."