Smith seeks big first impression

9-20-01, 1:00 a.m.

As he prepares to make his pro debut Sunday against the Ravens, Bengals' first-round draft pick Justin Smith sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com to discuss holding out and holding up in the rookie defensive end's first experience against the NFL's big, mobile tackles.

HOBSON: Any idea how much you will play Sunday?

SMITH: I won't start, but I definitely will get some snaps. I feel pretty comfortable. I'm not sore or hurting. I'm fresh and I should be. I don't know what the rotation will be, but it's up to me to make some plays.

In the back of my mind, I'm not thinking, 'I missed camp so I've got a few weeks to get ready.' It's right now. I've got to go. I expect a lot of production out of me.

HOBSON: You'll get an idea of the big left tackles right away. Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden may be the best one out there and he outweighs you by about 70 pounds (340 pounds to Smith's 271).

SMITH: He's a great player and it will be my first game as a professional athlete, but I don't think of it like that. I think of it as going out there as just another guy. I'm not going to sit around thinking, 'Oh my God, that's Jonathan Ogden.' I'm just going to go out there and try to beat him.

HOBSON: They say your weapon is your speed.

SMITH: I don't think there are too many people in the NFL that are as fast as I am off the ball right now. I could be wrong, but just from watching other teams, I don't think there are too many. That will be a pretty big asset for me.

HOBSON: Even with the layoff?

SMITH: My speed isn't going to be affected by not being in training camp. Only time will tell, but I feel pretty comfortable.

HOBSON: You have to figure they will test you against the run.

SMITH: Everybody criticized me when I got out of Missouri about how I hold up against the run. I thought that was my strongest asset coming out of college. Turn on any tape. I mean, I had around 100 tackles every year. I hope they try to run at me. I really do. If they run at me, I'm going to make the tackle. We'll be all right. I welcome them to run it. If they do, I think I'll be OK.

HOBSON: Didn't you have a lot tackles for loss last year?

SMITH: Yeah, 24. If they don't think I can hold up against the run, they'll find out the hard way.

HOBSON: You're a very confident guy. Where does that come from?

SMITH: I'm not cocky at all. When I'm off the field, I just go about my business. When I'm on the football field, I know I can do well because I have. That's what I'm here to do. That's what the team expects from me so when I get on the field, I better perform.

HOBSON: Much has been said about 8.5 sacks triggering the additional money in your contract every year. How do you feel about it? Is it too many? Although no one has done it for the Bengals in four years, 25 players did it in the NFL last year. Is it too big a number?

SMITH: It's the NFL and I haven't played a down in it yet. But in order for me to feel like I'm producing well, I feel I would need to get 8.5 sacks or something like that.

Like I said, I haven't played a down yet. I would think that's a pretty good number. Not many people do it year in and year out. That's why I'm here. That's what I'm supposed to be doing. That's what I expect out of myself.

HOBSON: The Bengals figure, "If he gets 8.5 sacks, he's earned it." You seem to agree.

SMITH: I don't mind that.

HOBSON: You said the other day the first perception of you (hard-working country boy who just loves football) is a bit screwed up now. That seems to be the one casualty and the one thing you regret from the holdout.

SMITH: Probably.

HOBSON: How long before you make them think you aren't the kind of guy they think you are?

SMITH: You just have to go out and start making some plays. If you go out there and you're not doing well, of course they have every right in the world to get on you. It all boils down to me making some plays. If I do that, everything will be great.

HOBSON: Do you ever regret saying, "I don't plan to hold out?"

SMITH: My whole philosophy right now is what is done is done. I can't change anything. I just take every day as every day. I come in early, I work hard, I try to get everything down. I'm going to play hard. I have no hard feelings. It's over. I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be a Bengal. I just want to put on my helmet and play great for the Bengals.

HOBSON: There was so much speculation during the holdout about who was calling the shots. A lot of people said it had to be your agent (Jim Steiner) or your Dad or somebody because if it was your call, you would have come in. Who was calling the shots?

SMITH: Basically, Jim was. I didn't know anything about this stuff. It was all Greek to me. (Smith and his family) didn't know the business side of football, so we were just leaving it up to Jim and trying to stay out of it.

The only thing I really told him is I don't want to go into the season. I know I want to play, just get me in. And he did. I have to take it from here and the only thing on my mind right now is Baltimore. If you're thinking about other things, your head isn't in the game and you can't play.

HOBSON: You seem to have a pretty good rapport with the people who did the deal, although there were some reports it got ugly. You said hello to Mike (Brown) the other day and you spent some time with the (Katie and Troy) Blackburns when you signed the deal.

SMITH: Nothing was ever personal. Everything was business. People don't go around in the business world getting upset over a deal. You can't take it personal and I never did. Now I'm here to play football and I think it's going to work out fine.

HOBSON: How are the guys treating you?

SMITH: Good. We're in the season. There's no time to be horsing around too much. Everybody is down to business.

HOBSON: Do you think you can produce coming into this situation?

SMITH: Definitely. I see no reason why I can't. That's why I hold myself to that. I'm the toughest person on me.

HOBSON: How is this defense similar to the one at Missouri?

SMITH: The defenses aren't real similar, but what I do is similar. We did a lot of fire zones, where I was dropping and picking up receivers. A lot of other defensive ends out of college don't do that. So it's just second nature to me. Picking up a receiver going across the flat. That's why I've been able to come in and just make the transition pretty easily. The technique at Missouri is pretty much what I'm doing here.

HOBSON: Do you watch a veteran pass rusher like Vaughn Booker in practice?

SMITH: I'll listen to anybody and take advice from anybody. I'll watch other guys, but what it gets down to is I have to do what got me here and what's going to take me on ahead and that is just pure speed around the edge. Whenever I don't have my speed anymore, I won't be as good a player. While I've got it, I have to take advantage of it.

HOBSON: The veteran rushers are always talking about using their hands. What about your hands?

SMITH: I use them enough. I see some of the guys coming off the line with their hands going a mile a minute. I don't do that. I wait until I get up to them and then start moving my hands. I feel fairly confident. It's hard to emulate somebody else because that's not how you move or how you do some things.

HOBSON: When you watched this defense on TV and in the opener, were you surprised at all? They've played pretty solid and have put good pressure on the passer.

SMITH: No, I knew it was a really good defense once I was with these guys in minicamp. I could see the speed that everybody has. Especially the linebackers. There are two great guys there and the secondary is always running around making plays. Up front, we've got some speed and the inside guys are always going to do their jobs. I wasn't surprised at all. I knew they were going to be good. It's only been one game, so we have to keep it going.

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