BY GEOFF HOBSON
Embattled Bengals quarterback Akili Smith got a little Boomerly advice Thursday.
Boomer Esiason, who held Smith's job for all or parts of 10 seasons, says an NFL quarterback must have, "thick skin, an iron cast stomach and a short memory."
He says Smith is most likely going to play with an edge and anger now that he's benched and, "if I were in Cincinnati, I would be watching to see how he reacts to all this. That will tell you about somebody."
Many, particularly in the media, and some teammates privately, would say Smith hasn't handled it well. Of course, the media is biased because Smith hasn't met the press since he was benched in favor of Scott Mitchell two weeks ago.
But Esiason, who never went a two-minute drill
without talking to the media never mind two weeks, has some surprising empathy for a guy benched after 15 NFL starts.
"Actually, before this I thought he had been a stand-up guy, but I can understand how he feels," Esiason said. "There's only so much you can keep saying and if the people around you aren't playing well, either, and you don't want to say that and if it keeps coming back to you, that can get cumbersome and wear you out. In a way I applaud it."
But Esiason also realizes an NFL quarterback has certain obligations in this turn-of-the-century media world.
"When you're a quarterback in this league, you do have a responsibility," Esiason said. "You have to take your medicine no matter how bad it tastes and hopefully one day it will turn around and be good. People appreciate the candor when things aren't going your way."
At this point, everyone has a take on Smith and his problems. Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson has played against him the last three weeks in practice and says he has batted down four of Smith's balls at the line of scrimmage.
"I think the guy's a good quarterback. I just think it's mechanical things," Gibson said. "He's holding the ball. You know he's going to cock the ball. I would love to rush Akili Smith because he holds the ball. Your best quarterback is the one who gets rid of it."
The Bengals' locker room is not a place where passion flows on the subject of the Queen City Quarterback Quandary, which escalated Tuesday when club president Mike Brown declared the job open at the next training camp.
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes says it doesn't bother him if Smith doesn't talk, but he thinks Smith should be consistent one way or the other. Gibson isn't surprised that a young quarterback has struggled in a veteran-oriented position.
"I was happy when I came in here one spring day and saw Scott Mitchell," Gibson said. "I knew the value of a Jeff Blake, of having a vet. Nothing against Akili, but sometimes if it's not your thing right away, you have to learn."
Esiason and Ken Anderson, the quarterback Esiason sat behind and watched at the beginning of his career, agree Smith can learn from watching.
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Anderson, the Bengals offensive coordinator, thought Smith showed what he learned from Mitchell in the first half against Pittsburgh last week when he hit his first five passes.
Esiason said he was learning even in his 13th NFL season in Arizona, when he got benched after the first three games of the 1996 season.
"I probably wasn't any worse off than where Akili is now," Esiason said. "It's a double-edged sword because a part of you doesn't want the guy to do well, but a guy like Kent Graham (in Arizona) had some success and I was able to see it from a different perspective and when I came back I went wild."
When Esiason returned from his Arizona benching, he scorched the Redskins for the third most ever passing yards in a game with 522 on the way to the most prolific three-game passing stretch in NFL history at age 35.
"You're never too old to learn," Esiason said.
Anderson knows it's the classic Catch-22. Smith needs to learn anticipation by getting more snaps. But how much can you learn from failure?
"It can be a positive," Anderson said. "Dick (LeBeau) made the call. I don't disagree with him. We have to go out there and win football games.
"You can count on one hand the number of quarterbacks who made an early impression," Anderson said. "I'm having trouble coming up with somebody after Dan Marino. John Elway struggled early. How good was Steve Young in Tampa Bay? Brett Favre must have struggled if Atlanta traded him to Green Bay. This is difficult for Akili. It's difficult for everyone around here. . . If you go about it the right way, watching can be a valuable learning experience."
Gibson thinks Smith may have have already learned something valuable.
"He's thinking too much. It looks like he's forcing it," Gibson said. "He's not being Akili Smith. He's not doing what the heck he did to get here."