Smith, Palmer go way back

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals quarterback Akili Smith heartily endorsed Friday head coach Dick LeBeau's plans to talk to former Browns head coach Chris Palmer about the job of Bengals offensive coordinator.

It poses this possibility.

Could Palmer, the man who coveted Smith enough to nearly take him with the first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft for Cleveland, be the man to revive Smith's career in Cincinnati?

"To this day I think Coach Palmer wanted to draft me," Smith said of the moment the Browns opted for Tim Couch No. 1.

"But I think he got over ruled by (owner) Al Lerner and (president) Carmen Policy and those guys. We got along great during the whole process. If LeBeau wants to go that way, that would be fine with me."

Smith also said he had no problem with the reassignment of former offensive coordinator Ken Anderson to quarterbacks coach despite the rumblings of a strain in their dealings.

"That's fine with me," Smith said. "My only point had been he didn't have enough time to work on the game plan and work with me maybe as much as I needed individually. Now he can work with me more."

Smith said he plans to return to Cincinnati once a
coordinator is hired so he can learn the system and continue his workouts at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I've already started working out. Just trying to get some more strength," Smith said. "My goal is to be the starter when we go to training camp."

The news of the Palmer pursuit is tempered by the fact he's already been interviewed by the Redskins.

And Chicago appears to be next, where close friend Dick Jauron is the Bears head coach. Jauron, whose closest friend in the NFL could be LeBeau, bonded with Palmer when they were Tom Coughlin's coordinators in Jacksonville.

Still, LeBeau hopes to talk to Palmer next week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. That's when he'll also interview former Steelers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Steelers receivers coach Bob Bratkowski.

He's already interviewed Colts quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians and may interview one or two more candidates in Mobile if they surface in the next few days.

Palmer's two-year stint of 5-27 with the expansion Browns was even worse than the Bengals' 8-24, and the misery was compounded this season by the NFL's last –ranked offense. The only worse passing game in the league was in Cincinnati.

So why Palmer?

"They had some great teams when he was in Jacksonville and coordinating those offenses," said LeBeau of the Jags' 22-10 run in '97 and '98. "If you look what happened in Cleveland this year, not only did the quarterback (Couch) get hurt, but so did a lot of guys."

Palmer is popular with quarterbacks. He was Drew Bledsoe's position coach when New England won the 1996 AFC championship and Jags quarterback Mark Brunell won the 1997 AFC passing title.

And then there's the relationship with Smith. Would Palmer prefer to work with Smith or the Bears' Cade McNown if he gets to replay the '99 draft?

The Smith-Palmer relationship sparked during Smith's workout for the Browns at Oregon.

"After he saw me throw, he said it was the best workout he ever saw any quarterback have," Smith said. "And when we talked Xs and Os, I think he was impressed with that, too."

Smith was impressed after the draft when he got a letter from Palmer. The coach wanted to assure Smith that the Browns had not courted him only to leverage Couch on a contact. He also told him he would have a great career.

"I appreciated that letter a lot," Smith said.

NO JACKSON DEAL:

Left tackle John Jackson remained unsigned despite agent Richard Katz's face-to-face meeting with Bengals scout Duke Tobin Friday morning.

"We're still close, but we have to work through some issues," Katz said. "John wants to retire here and the Bengals want him here and feel he's a valuable player, so we'll just keep at it."

Tobin said there has been no agreement on length in disputing reports there's it's a done deal for two years that includes an option.

"We've both agreed that he wants to be here and that he's a key guy for us," Tobin said.

NORV BID:

LeBeau said Friday he had conversations with former Redskins head coach Norv Turner before Turner took the coordinator's job in San Diego.

"He and his wife come from California," LeBeau said. "His family situation had a lot to with it, but we did discuss the job with him. I got to know him pretty well when I was with Pittsburgh and we scrimmaged Washington every (training camp)."

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