Up close: Dreaming and dealing with Akili Smith

One day last week, quarterback Akili Smith found himself alone in the Bengals' spacious new locker room as offensive coordinator Ken Anderson waited for his video to get hooked up after the team's move from Spinney Field. With most players taking a breather from workouts before training camp starts in three weeks, it was a good time for Smith to muse about the future with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com.

HOBSON: What's this about you having dreams playing Cleveland?

SMITH: I've had two. The first one was we beat them late, like we did last year (in Smith's first NFL start on a two-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens on the Bengals' last play).

It was a fake 14 roll.  A play-action roll to the left type of deal. The offensive line gave me 10 seconds. Everything was covered. First, Kenny said, 'Throw it away, throw it away.' Then he said, "Go through your progressions, go through your progressions.' Then I ended up seeing (running back Michael) Basnight   in the back of the end zone. 

It's funny, because Kenny has basically tutored me the whole time I've been here. It was like Kenny was an angel out there through that whole sequence. It just goes to show you he's doing a tremendous job. It was late and we needed a touchdown to win, just like last year. It was a 40-yard rope. Somehow Basnight got into the back of the end zone and was wide open.

HOBSON: What was the other dream?
SMITH: We were up in Cleveland. We had already put our uniforms on, stretched, warmed up, chin straps buckled. We were waiting for Cleveland to basically get off the bus. They were getting off their bus with headphones and suits. We were fired up, ready to go.

HOBSON: I guess people still don't realize that you'll never forget last year's draft. (Smith insists the Browns used him as leverage to sign Tim Couch No. 1 before going to the Bengals No. 3.
SMITH: It hurt me a whole lot. I just wish they had been more honest with me. That's all. Just say, 'Akili, you're a great player, great quarterback. We'll be playing against you in the future, but we have selected Tim Couch,' instead of doing it the way they did.

HOBSON: Peter Warrick (the Bengals' No. 1 pick this year) isn't happy the Browns didn't take him first, too. Akili, Peter and Paul Brown all have one thing in common. They got spurned by the Cleveland Browns.
SMITH: Basically. We don't plan to be in that situation again, where Cincinnati takes who ever Cleveland doesn't select. If they're going to be at the top of the list every single year, then so be it. We don't plan on being up there any more. We'll leave that up to them.

HOBSON: I saw you just unpacked a book, "Prayers That Prevail." You're a man of faith. How deep did you get into the Bible last year? It was a tough rookie year.
SMITH: Just coming into this situation, knowing we basically need God. Need him for help and strength and stuff like that. I'm not an angel by any sort. At all. I need to work on things so I can hopefully lead by example and show these guys He is the way.

HOBSON: What do you need to work on? You don't have a bad rap off the field.
SMITH: Sometimes I go out and party a little too much. I have to eliminate that stuff being in the position I'm in. When you're a quarterback, you're self conscious about it because everybody is looking at you. Everybody is wondering what Akili Smth is doing. Now that I'm here up until the season starts, all that stuff has to come to an end. I've got to tighten those loose screws.

HOBSON: What's your idea of partying? Clubbing?
SMITH; Yeah, just go out, have a few drinks. Do what guys do at the club. I usually go out more in California because there's more to do out there. It's time to put that stuff aside. I could easily be at home right now, still working out. But there's nothing there for me. This is the job that's been assigned to me. (Bengals President) Mike Brown and these guys have given me a lot of money and I have to live up to that.

HOBSON: Have you got a girlfriend here or back in California?
SMITH: I just broke up with my girl about two months ago. We were always off and on for three and a half years. Things just didn't work out. Life goes on.

HOBSON: Is it easier (on football) not being tied down?
SMITH: You have more time to concentrate on football, but you still need that female companionship to kind of settle you in, rub your back when you're tired and a little frustrated.

HOBSON: How is Emani (Smith's 3-year-old daughter) doing? How's it working out?
SMITH; Fabulous. I just took her to an offense-defense camp up in (Los Angeles) and she was running around the track, catching the ball. It was a good weekend, last weekend. I went to an offense-defense camp in Riverside, coaching the quarterbacks, showed kids that NFL players do give back to the community, and got to spend time with my daughter. We went to a fair, she rode some rides , played some basketball games, won her a teddy bear. I think her mom wants her to be a model. I'd like her to play tennis or softball.

HOBSON: She's probably your anchor, right?
SMITH: She's the only reason I'm here working today. To make sure she has what ever she needs. That's the bottom line.

HOBSON: You talk about giving back to the community. You've already given $100,000 to Grossmont Junior College for a field.
SMITH: I've given $250,000 to my church. I've got a list of stuff. $5,000 here. $10,000 there. $25,000 here.

HOBSON: How much total?
SMITH: I've given away between $500-600,000. I was just writing checks to my family during Christmas.

HOBSON: Is (the $10.8 million signing bonus) disappearing?
SMITH: Not at all. I know I'm financially set for life. I'm not too worried about that. My contract is worth $50 million plus if I max out. Say we go out 8-8 for the next six seasons. I'll get anywhere between $20 to $25 million of that. I'm financially set for life. The Bible says you have to give to receive. To give tithes and I've been doing that.

HOBSON: When you were a rookie, you tried to be a leader by coming out and saying things (the media) thought was great, but that you probably took heat from your teammates on. Like when you wondered if guys were studying. In retrospect, was that a good thing to do?
SMITH: That's the way I felt by looking around. I'll say it again. Bruce (Coslet) says it to the guys. "Study your playbooks, men." Then we go out and guys the next day make the same mistakes. Do you think they got in their playbooks? No. Nobody else wanted to step up and say anything.

HOBSON: You've said if you had (running back) Corey Dillon, you could go the playoffs. Can you see this team without Corey?
SMITH: I was talking about that with J.A. (running backs coach Jim Anderson). We would love to have him back. He's rushed for over 1,000 yards in three years. If C.D. 's not going to be here (sigh), there's nothing we can do about it. The show must go on. They need to negotiate instead of Corey just saying, "I want $5 million a year." They need to negotiate and get something both sides are happy with.

HOBSON: You've been lobbying to use the three-receiver set a lot more. If Corey's not here, wouldn't that take the burden off the other backs?
SMITH: If we go with the three-receiver set, defenses are going to be in trouble. It's going to come down to me just making the right reads and making accurate throws. The backs will be one-on-one. Kenny and Bruce have done a good job putting in all kind of stuff.

HOBSON; A lot of the new stuff is for Warrick, right?
SMITH: Yeah, short routes, get him the ball real quick, get him behind two or three blockers and let him go to work and read it.

HOBSON: Do you think this team is better off without Pickens?
SMITH: Mmm. The way things are looking right now, things definitely look like that. Pickens has been through so much here, a lot more than what I can imagine. The way things are looking now, I'm real happy with my receivers. Real happy.

HOBSON: Warrick said during minicamp that this was your house, he just wanted a room in it. How do you like your new house?
SMITH: It's beautiful man. Like I said, for us not to win this year would be a slap in the face to the city, to Mike Brown, to the coaches, to everybody. It's state of the art. No more moping around saying, "Why don't we have this? Why don't we have that?" There's no more of that. We've got a state of the art stadium and now it's time to win.

HOBSON: Any regrets about (last season's 27-practice) holdout?
SMITH: I think it came down to that the Bengals knew Jeff (Blake) was ther starting quarterback and they could wait until we caved in or they caved in. But I think it backfired because we started 0-4 and I got thrown in there with hardly any snaps. I'm looking forward to Georgetown, to getting the reps and getting to know my teammates better.
This is the most important month of my career because I'm getting ready for my first training camp. I'm gearing everything to Buffalo (the first exhibition game).

HOBSON: How much do you want to play in the exhibition games? There has been some criticism the first team hasn't played enough. Would you want to play three series or three quarters?
SMITH: It's the coaches' call. In my opinion, I'd like to play a half, but if I'm struggling, keep me in there.

HOBSON: How's the toe? Are you going to wear anything special?
SMITH: It's good. Everything is fine. I've got a little sole I wear, but other than that, I'm fine.

HOBSON: Did your minor-league baseball experience brace you for the hard times of last year?
SMITH: Baseball helped me mature because I was unsuccessful in baseball. I had one stint for the Pirates where I hit. 280 during extended spring training. I was hitting the crap out of the ball and I went from seven to third in the lineup. Then I went to a short season of single A ball , ended up in a series of slumps and got released. Last year there was the high of the Cleveland game, and then I slumped against Pittsburgh, a game we had a chnce to win. Then I hurt the toe. I know people are saying I'm like a rookie again, but looking back on it, I got a lot of experience. I learned the speed of the game. I played against the Rams and San Diego and got the four starts.

HOBSON: Make the call. What's the record going to be?  
SMITH: The least we should finish is 8-8. We've got to be better than .500. We've got everything, we've just got to put it all together.  It's like Kenny says. In this league, you're never far away. Look at the film. We've got people open. Now the quarterback has to make the right read, the receivers have to run the right routes and we go on from there.  
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