Smith bulking up

3-20-01, 6:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Before last season, the Bengals put the weight of the world on Akili Smith when they said, "We'll only go as far as Akili takes us."

Now that he has to worry about a mere quarterback competition instead of saving the franchise, he looks like he could lug some extra burdens with his toil in the weight room. He has checked into offseason workouts at 223 pounds, eight pounds heavier than last season with thicker shoulders.

"I wanted to get stronger to take the pounding, to take the hits," said Smith, who was sacked an average of three times in his 11 starts last season. "I wanted to get my shoulders stronger, and my legs are bigger, too."

The Bengals have to be a bit concerned that their two top quarterbacks, Jon Kitna and Smith, led the NFL last season with 17 and 14 fumbles, respectively. Smith has been working on preventing an encore by holding the ball lower before he releases instead of cocking the ball up by his ear.

By putting the ball lower, it's easier to keep both hands on the ball while moving in the pocket. But Smith knows he needs better play from left tackle Rod Jones to help the cause.

"I think I was second or first in the league in fumbles in the pocket," Smith said. "Half the time the line was getting beat from the blind side (and) I can't tell what's going on back there. It's a tough situation. Rod had a tough year. He'll get better, I had tough year, I'll get better."

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