Smith family coping

2-09-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON

The family of Bengals quarterback Akili Smith tried to come to grips Thursday with his arrest for driving under the influence and a March 1 court date.

Ray Smith, Akili's father, said Thursday night he hopes lessons can be learned from the mistake.

Much like Akili Smith did during his senior season at the University of Oregon. After a similar brush with the law two years ago, he impressed enough pro scouts in his workouts to nearly become the first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

"It was definitely a mistake and we have to admit that as a family and work through it," Ray said. "This is another page in his story and he has to learn from it and move on. It's been a pretty emotional day around here."

Akili Smith, 25, was booked on a misdemeanor at 2:03 a.m. Thursday in the San Diego Center Jail after he was pulled over going the wrong way on a one-way street in one of the city's popular entertainment districts.

Akili Smith, who couldn't be reached for comment, was released on $1,600 bail about 12 hours later and is to appear in San Diego Superior Court March 1. He'll face NFL sanctions only if he's found guilty or admits guilt.

After speaking with Bengals President Mike Brown, Ray Smith said he appreciated Brown's offer to speak with his son.

"Mike was sympathetic and understanding and showed a lot of concern for his quarterback," Ray Smith said. "He was very responsive about trying to get us the best representation possible and it made me feel better talking to him."

Even before Thursday's arrest, the Bengals had planned to reach out to their deposed franchise quarterback. Head coach Dick LeBeau has said he's toying with accompanying new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski on a flight to San Diego to meet Smith. Even if LeBeau doesn't go, Bratkowski would.

Ray Smith admits it's been a rocky run in Cincinnati for Akili, who left mad after losing his starting job to Scott Mitchell last year 10 games into his second season.

But Ray doesn't think the incident reflects his son's frustration with his NFL career.

"Actually, he's been pretty upbeat lately," Ray said. "He's getting some guys together

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(quarterback Scott Covington and receivers Danny Farmer and Damon Griffin) to work out up near Los Angeles and he's spent a lot of time on the phone talking to (receiver) Darnay Scott."

LeBeau has declared all 22 starting spots up for grabs, but there have been indications the Bengals are trying to make it work for Smith as Bratkowski puts together a new playbook.

Since this is Smith's first legal problem with alcohol while playing in the NFL, he most likely won't be suspended but is looking at a possible diversionary program or counseling.

League policy says, "Absent aggravating circumstances, discipline for a first offense will generally be a fine of one-half of one-seventeenth (1/17) of (a player's salary) to a maximum of $20,000."

Akili Smith, who received $10.8 million to sign as the third pick in the '99 draft, is scheduled to make the minimum $394,000 salary for three-year players. The benching and just three touchdown passes in his last 14 starts have combined to prevent Akili Smith from triggering incentives giving him annual salaries starting at $1.7 million.

"The club is aware of the report that Akili Smith was arrested early today," said Jack Brennan, the Bengals public relations director. "If the information is accurate, this is a matter that Akili will have to handle with the proper authorities. It is the club's policy not to comment further on legal charges until such matters are resolved in the courts."

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