BY GEOFF HOBSON
One of quarterback Akili Smith's many wishes for the new year is the Bengals use an offensive scheme emphasizing his out-of-pocket skills.
Smith broke his six-week silence Friday, which began with his Nov. 13 benching. But he didn't tear into the club. After choosing his words for weeks, he told bengals.com he was pleased and upbeat after his meeting with coach Dick LeBeau on Thursday.
"I'm still under evaluation and I guess that's the only fair thing right now," Smith said.
"I don't want a trade. I want to be the quarterback here and win over the fans. I hope I'm the starting quarterback when we go to training camp and if they draft another quarterback, then I plan on beating him out because I'll be in my third year."
Smith is also wishing for a quarterbacks coach who doesn't have the added responsibility of offensive coordinator.
Smith has no ill will toward offensive coordinator Ken Anderson. But when head coach/play caller Bruce Coslet resigned after the season's third game, Anderson's time with the quarterbacks was consumed some by his game-planning duties.
Smith just thinks both their jobs could be made easier with a third guy. And Smith has just the right man in Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, his college coordinator.
"If Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau came to me and asked me the one guy I would want to be the quarterbacks coach, Jeff Tedford would be the guy," Smith said Friday.
Smith and LeBeau could form a mutual admiration society. Smith loves the way LeBeau has built the offense around the running game.
"He told me he thought there had been too much pressure put on me early by throwing a lot of passes," Smith said.
Smith also said:
_He believes LeBeau when he says Smith was not benched because he is just 348 passing yards shy of an incentive that would mean about $5 million to him over the next five years.
"Dick looked me straight in the eye and said that it had nothing to with that," Smith said. "I have to believe him because he's never given me any reason not to believe him. But to be honest with you, my head is going in so many different directions on that, I don't know where I am on it. But I believe Dick."
_He has benefited from the six-week apprenticeship to Scott Mitchell, an 11-year veteran who is 2-2 as the Bengals starter.
"Scott may not believe it, but I've learned a lot from just watching him and I think it's helped me," Smith said. "His preparation. He prepares a lot. I'm going to have to prepare more. He stays here and watches film until 6 or 7 at night. I usually take it home, but I may start staying here like he does. Get away from the distractions you might have at home and stay here. Just little things like that."
_He thinks the Bengals are "a little shy," with their number of offensive coaches and that they could use the equivalent of defensive assistant/computer guru Louie Cioffi.
"With our offense,
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one guy can't give you enough time if he's both the coordinator and the quarterbacks coach," Smith said. "We need to have more individual time with our coaches. One of the great things Dick did was add a 30-minute meeting after practice and that helped a lot."
Smith admits, "it just hasn't clicked yet," and he doesn't know why because he has enormous respect for Anderson's knowledge and hard work.
"I can point the finger at me on some things and Kenny probably points it at himself on some things because he's a hard worker," Smith said.
"It's tough when you've been in the same system for 15, 20 years," Smith said. "You tend to put the quarterback into the system instead of the other way around."
Smith has spent much of the season as the NFL's last-rated passer with a 52.8 rating and has just three touchdown passes in 267 passes attempts.
Smith, the third pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, was taken just behind Donovan McNabb at No. 3. The Bengals see McNabb this week in Philadelphia as he tries to secure NFL MVP honors.
Smith sees McNabb running and passing the Eagles into the playoffs, and he thinks he can do the same.
Asked why he has a tendency to hold the ball in the pocket, Smith said, "Because I'm not a pure, sit-back-in-the-pocket type of guy. I mean, I can do that. You can't get out of pocket every play. But I'd like to do some more bootlegs, waggles, rollouts. You get a quarterback that can do things like that, that drives defensive coordinators crazy."
Smith also said he doesn't have the ability to change a pass play at the line of scrimmage as easily as he did at Oregon, where Tedford sent him to the line armed with three pass plays and hand signals.
Smith admits he's disappointed in the benching, but understands it better now. After LeBeau sat down and talked to him that first week, he began to see both sides.
"I got home and called my Dad and he was asking me the same things I was thinking," Smith said. "Why are they paying you all this money and you're the quarterback of the future and they sit you down?"
LeBeau told Smith the club was concerned that he might hurt his development if he kept going through the same negative things.
"I wasn't playing well, either, I knew that," Smith said. "They didn't want me to lose confidence or get shell-shocked. So I can see it from Coach LeBeau's perpspective."
Smith is going to escape to San Diego for the next month or so, but his signature optimism is beginning to bubble again.
"I just need to get away," Smith said. "It's been a tough, tough, season. But if there are changes, a new system, whatever, and Mike Brown or Dick LeBeau or Ken Anderson want me here, I'll be on the next plane back to Cincinnati and get back to work."
Smith has no regrets about the 38-day blackout with the media. Told the media usually gives the guys a break who talk when they are at their lowest, Smith disagreed.
"They were still banging me when I was talking after all the bad games," Smith said. "After the (Nov. 12) Dallas game, the first words out of the guy's mouth was, 'How do you feel about maybe losing your job?' That's all the questions were and I'm thinking, 'Why talk to these guys?'"
But he also admitted, "I'm sure after I get away from all this stuff, I'll be talking to them again."