Smith trades on new role

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Chris Smith looks like another valuable trade pickup in the Brian Leonard-Reggie Nelson mold.

In the last decade  Duke Tobin has swung some big-time trades that have provided immediate help and key regulars  for Bengals' post-season teams ranging from the 2009 deal for third-down running back Brian Leonard, the 2010 swap for starting safety and eventual Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson, and a 2011 trade for third cornerback Kelly Jennings.

And Tobin, the club's director of player personnel, has hoped he's done it again for a post-season run with April's acquisition of Jacksonville defensive lineman Chris Smith. For what is believed to be a conditional seventh-round pick next year, Smith has emerged as a regular on defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's Rotisserie Defense that is roasting offenses with a rotation of 17 players seeing at least 35 percent of this season's snaps.  

But don't look for a blockbuster for an offensive lineman or any position for that matter in time for Tuesday's trading deadline. A top-shelf left tackle did get moved Monday, but it was probably too pricey for the Bengals since Houston's Duane Brown cost Seattle a regular cornerback as well as a future second- and fifth-round picks. Brown would solve a problem, but the Bengals fear such players could create others. For instance, Brown just recently surfaced in Houston ending a holdout and the guy the Texans traded for him, Jeremy Lane, lost his job a few days ago and popped off on Twitter.

". I don't know of any team that has a player standing on the sideline like that — someone who would come in and upgrade you right away — a team who is willing to sacrifice their own QB," said head coach Marvin Lewis at his Monday news conference. "Generally, guys who are traded are players who are disgruntled or are underachieving in some way — players for whom a new address may be good. Also, in those cases, teams are clearing off cap room to make available for a young player the next year, or whatever it may be. There is a lot involved in doing trades.

The options are a lot more limited during the season. The Leonard trade came after the draft in May. The deals for Nelson and Jennings were struck in the final days of the preseason. Chris Smith arrived two weeks before this season's draft.

Smith showed up like Nelson and 49ers safety Taylor Mays via trades. The Bengals nearly drafted them when they came out and remained interested while they watched their development. A fifth-round pick of the Jags in 2014, Smith is headed back for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Jacksonville needing 15 snaps to pass his career-high 154 in 2015.

He'll get a lot more than that.  He's coming off a career-high 34 snaps in Sunday's victory he helped make possible after Michael Johnson exited with a back injury at halftime. With Johnson uncertain for this Sunday, wouldn't you know Smith is slated to see his old team?

"He added depth," said left end Carlos Dunlap. "He had a lot of pressure (Sunday) and could have had a couple of sacks. It's a big week for him to show the team that lost faith in him and get back at them."

Smith is low keying the return but he'll be a marked man. He came up with one of the biggest plays Sunday to book-end Dunlap's pick-six when he rocked Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett on fourth-and-four with 1:18 left to end it on a sailing incompletion.

"They gave me an opportunity. They drafted me. At the end of the day it's a business. No hard feelings," said Smith Monday, recounting the trade. "I wouldn't be in the NFL but the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted me. It was messed up, or whatever. I'm here now. I just play the cards I'm dealt.

"It was shocking. It was like getting drafted all over again. It's fun. I've been here and playing. Stuff didn't work out there. No hard feelings. It felt like getting drafted again. It went viral. It went everywhere. It was fun."

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Michael Johnson has teamed up with Chris Smith to give the Bengals a force inside.

Smith is having fun in Cincinnati following in Johnson's footsteps of moving from end in the base to tackle on passing downs. He's got 1.5 sacks and his hit on Brissett was his fourth of the season on a QB. Here's a guy who could get on the field for only19 games and 312 snaps in three years for the Jags now rated by prfootballfocus.com as the 36th most efficient pass rushing end in the NFL ahead of such luminaries as Jean Pierre Paul, Olivier Vernon and Robert Ayers.

But he's been doing it at a relatively new spot. Not only has the change of scenery helped overall, but the move inside to rush the passer has been just as refreshing. Smith, a North Carolina native who had a productive and durable career at Arkansas, is a thoughtful guy that checked all the Bengals' boxes on and off the field when he was coming out of the draft.

"When you play end you can mostly just go. Inside you've got to know the protections and everything like that because if you don't know the protection, I mean you'll run into a brick wall most of the time," Smith said. "It's just using my speed, just trying to move the guard's feet and stuff like that and correct in space. Guards don't like that, when you correct space and have them on island. That's one thing about it, trying to use my speed and beat their feet."

 Smith texted Johnson after the game and they've become close even though they're playing basically the same spot as they've made that third-down adjustment to the inside. Working next to five-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins has been a kick and they conspired to pull off Sunday's last hit when Atkins basically picked off center Ryan Kelly in Smith's gap and Smith, instinctive enough to read it, shot through Atkins' gap.

"You know when the game's on the line, Geno's going to make a play," Smith said.

But besides the vets, Smith has been a terrific complement to the rookies on a line where seven players have taken a third of the snaps. Pass rusher Carl Lawson had one of Sunday's greatest hits with a sack two snaps before Smith's final nail and Jordan Willis played another steady-eddie 20 snaps in the base, most of them when Johnson left.

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Jordan Willis, at work in the preseason, goes by 'J-Smooth.'

"I mean they're just freaks. Carl's ability and stuff like that, and Jordan is like the smooth one," Smith said. "You never know what move he's going to hit. He's so smooth with it. I think Jordan is more of a rusher like Carlos, using his length and stuff like that. He always keeps the offensive line guessing because he's so smooth. He'll hit you with a spin or a long arm or a swipe. I call him J-Smooth because he's smooth with his pass rush moves."

Cincinnati Bengals host Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium in week 8 of the regular season.

Head coach Marvin Lewis staunchly defended Lawson's right to hit Brissett on a huge play at the end of half where Lawson was flagged for the preposterous act of putting his full weight on Brissett to make the play as he threw. The amazing thing is the 6-4, 230-pound Brissett is difficult to haul down, but the 6-2, 260-pound Lawson is so strong that when he cleaned and powered him to the turf so crisply wrapping and lifting him that it must have looked brutal to the official. Smith can only hope he doesn't get fined.

"I was actually right behind him, and I said, 'Oh, lord.' But I didn't think they were going to call roughing the passer because as soon as he let the ball go, Carl hit him," Smith said. "We'll see about that one. I hope he doesn't get a FedEx or nothing about that."

If Johnson can't go against the Jags, Willis figures it will be like the Texans game that Johnson missed with a concussion when Willis played nearly 70 percent of the snaps. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Willis may have to play some snaps inside even though he's rarely done it. But Guenther is getting used to kids coming through when defensive line coach Jacob Burney throws in fourth-rounder Ryan Glasgow at tackle.

"There was one time toward end of ballgame … we had Willis and Glasgow and Lawson in there. All three of them," Guenther said of one of Sunday's late series. "I always stop myself when I see them run on the field at the same time, I always look over to Jake saying whoa, whoa, but then realize, no, these guys are good. They can do it. They have done a good job."

Smith knows what his old mates are up to. He got a dose of head coach Doug Marrone last season and he knows the Jags are going to try and pound it with rookie running back Leonard Fournette's 4.6-yard per bang, as well as backups Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon contributing to the club's five yards per carry average that has made them relevant after years of floundering.

"I feel like they play hard. I know practicing there, Coach Doug is going to run that football," Smith said. "He's power mouth football. That's one thing; they're going to play hard. My thing is make them one dimensional. Try to stop that run game with T.J. and Chris Ivory and Fournette and make them one dimensional so we can really get them in pass situations."

Hard hits, but no hard feelings.

Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders perform during the Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals game - 10/29/2017 *Photos taken by Steve

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