Smith: I'm not a bust

After Friday's throwing session with the quarterbacks and receivers, Akili Smith sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com to give his first in-depth interview about his life and times with the Bengals since he was benched back on Nov. 13.

HOBSON: It's been about six months. How do you feel about the benching? Was it right or wrong?

SMITH: From a selfish standpoint, I wanted the last four games to get better. Scott Mitchell's not even here. Why did you give him all those games if you didn't plan on re-signing him next year? We had a coaching situation still in the air. We had to win some games if some coaches were going to be kept around. They had to make moves to give the team the best opportunity to win and I wasn't playing well.

I look at it from both perspectives. I can see where the coaches were coming from. I can see where my selfishness came into play, too.

HOBSON: As it stands, Mitchell isn't here and the coaches are.

SMITH: Yeah. Why didn't I play those last four games? I constantly think, 'Was it the money? Was it the money? Was it the money?' Like I said, (head coach Dick) LeBeau told me it had nothing to do with the money. I respect that and I move on.

(Editor's note: Smith fell 348 passing yards short of an incentive that would have jacked his minimum salary to $1.7 million for the rest of his contract).

HOBSON: You've said (the incentive) is going to be in the back of your mind.

SMITH: Always. Come on. That's a lot of money. You and I both know that it's a lot of money. To reach that in the last four games wouldn't have been hard at all. There's a certain part of me that's sticking with the money. But LeBeau looked me right in my eyes and told me it wasn't so. I have to go with my coach.

HOBSON: A coach like Mike Holmgren thinks an NFL quarterback does it in three years or not. This is your third year.

SMITH:

That's the way I'm looking at it. Either I'm a good quarterback in this league or I'm not. And I know with all my heart that I have enough ability to be not a good, but a great quarterback and I've got to get it done this year.

HOBSON: Or you'll be labeled as a guy who. . .

SMITH: Be labeled as a bust. I'm not a bust. I've worked too hard and I'm too much of a competitor to be labeled a bust.

HOBSON: It has to hurt you when you hear it.

SMITH: You know some people are dogging me and I've only played a year and a half of football. My first year I (started) in what, four games? Then last year I (started) in 11? I've got 15 (starts) under my belt. That's equivalent of one season and people are saying this and saying that. I can't worry about it.

HOBSON: You've been talking about getting some space between you and your family. You guys are extremely close.

SMITH: That's my Dad. That's how he is. He's overprotective. My Mom is overprotective. They want to keep me under their wing and all that stuff. It's frustrating sometimes, but you've got to respect that.

HOBSON: You've got an apartment now at home, right?

SMITH: I have my own place in San Diego. My Dad still wants me to come live with him. I can understand my Dad. He's a real great man. He's the reason I'm here right now. But it's time for me to spread my wings, and go my own way and fly away. And he's having a hard time dealing with that.

Our relationship is getting better. He's finishing some things around the house. The best thing he did was he built his house before I even got drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Now he just has to put the finishing touches on it. That's the type of stuff my Dad likes. He can say he built his own home and trained his son to do to the things he's done. He can hang his hat on that.

(Editor's note: Smith was charged with a DUI Feb. 8 in San Diego and is scheduled for trial April 16).

HOBSON: Can you talk about the DUI yet?

SMITH: No.

HOBSON: Is it going to trial?

SMITH: I think so. I think we've got a good chance to be acquitted when I get a chance to tell my side of the story.

HOBSON: I know you're not a bad person. You know you're not a bad person. But you've got that image now.

SMITH: I've got that image going on. But the people who know me as a kid growing up, who know me, they know I'm not a bad person.

HOBSON: Do you think you've got a drinking problem?

SMITH: I don't have a problem with alcohol at all.

HOBSON: You said it, flat out, "I'll be OK if I get my head on straight."

SMITH: That's it. If I can get my head on straight and I come to peace with myself, I can compete with any quarterback in the league. I don't care whom.

HOBSON: They thought when they drafted you, that you were mature that way. Played minor-league baseball for a year and were older than most guys.

SMITH: I hit a speed bump that Cleveland game (last season's 24-7 loss in the opener) and I don't know what happened. I went through the preseason like it was effortless. It was effortless.

HOBSON: NFL people said you looked on the verge last preseason.

SMITH: To this day I still think about what happened. I can't come up with any answers.

HOBSON: Is it because they called 50 pass plays?

SMITH: That put a lot of pressure on me. That might have changed the season if we had started off pounding CD (Corey Dillon) like LeBeau liked to do.

HOBSON: You did up in Cleveland (a 12-3 Bengals' win, the only victory last year Smith finished) with Dillon carrying 27 times.

SMITH: It wasn't pretty, but the way they beat us here, and then for us to go up there and we beat them in their house, it just lets you know there were two different teams on that field.

HOBSON: You took the brunt of a season where you didn't get a lot of help. The left tackle struggled on your blind side, there was a coaching change, there wasn't a receiver with more than a year's experience, and from what I hear you didn't like the fact the offense changed a lot every week.

SMITH: Everything you just said hit it right on the nail. And at the quarterback position, if you win, you get glorified. If not, you take the heat. I took the heat big time last year and that goes with the territory. That's why I make the big bucks.

HOBSON: You like the looks of (offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's) new playbook. Will it make a difference?

SMITH: There's a number system now. You just go to the line of scrimmage and know you've got 078, and that paints a picture like Kenny (quarterbacks coach Anderson) said. The scheme is basically what we had at Oregon.

HOBSON: I guess you'd like it if the offense were more consistent week to week.

SMITH: We definitely have to make adjustments, but not the whole thing. I hope we get to a point where we run our stuff and get that down pat. I don't disagree with changing, but not as a young team. A veteran team can do it, but not a young team.

HOBSON: You said one of the things missing last year was a personal relationship with the coaches. Do you sense a change in that?

SMITH: I really believe Kenny and I are doing a lot better. We're talking more, cracking jokes with each other, all of that stuff. Hopefully that situation continues to get better with all the offensive staff. Quarterbacks, we have to be able to sit down and come in and get going on that, too, so everybody gets on the same page.

HOBSON: How is it better with Kenny?

SMITH: Just the communication. He's in a situation he's learning, too. So he's trying to learn and teach us at the same time. It's the communication process. Some of the things he's coaching me on out there on the field as far as the footwork and what we've seen on film, that's starting to register now.

HOBSON: Management has been impressed with how you've looked the past month. Mike Brown and Jim Lippincott say they can tell you're using Kenny's techniques. Why now?

SMITH: Because he didn't have the time last year. Once Bruce (head coach Coslet) left, he became the offensive coordinator and his time was completely gone. Now that Bratkowski is here, we've got the opportunity to go over everything that needs to be gone over as far as a quarterback.

My biggest thing is the balance and extending my leg on the follow through. And I'm holding the ball a lot lower than I did last year.

HOBSON: Is that comfortable?

SMITH: Yeah, everything is starting to register for me right now.

HOBSON: Why do you think that is?

SMITH: It takes time, man. It has to be done in the offseason . It's tough to coach a quarterback during the season. You need to work on those things the whole week, but in the game, it might not be there for you. It has to be repetition each and every day.

HOBSON: What's the one thing you learned from last year?

SMITH: One thing I can say about Scott Mitchell. He put in tremendous hours studying. He was getting on his laptop and mapping out every play against cover one, cover two, cover three, hot, flip, all that stuff. He'd come in with computerized stuff down on paper. I admired that. I'm going to use that technique.

HOBSON: Are you going to get a laptop?

SMITH: I've got a laptop already, but after seeing that it makes me know I need to pick my studying up.

HOBSON: What has to happen if this is going to work?

SMITH: I have to be comfortable. It has nothing really to do with football. It has to do with having peace of mind. Get my family and my friends cleared up, all those off-field distractions cleared up so by the time I go to Georgetown I can focus on football.

HOBSON: Who would you urge they take in the draft with the fourth pick?

SMITH: An offensive lineman or defensive lineman. The big tackle from Texas (Leonard Davis), I've seen him live in the Holiday Bowl. I was on the sidelines (when Texas played Oregon in San Diego.)

HOBSON: You wouldn't mind him protecting you?

SMITH: No, I wouldn't mind that at all.

HOBSON: The Bengals are getting banged for their lack of activity in free agency. How do you think they're doing?

SMITH: Man, as long as they've got enough money to sign Corey Dillon, that's all I know.

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