Sunday, August 29, 1999

Bengals shouldn't rush Akili

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Akili Smith warms up before Saturday night's game.
(Saed Hindash photo)
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        He came out to polite but wary applause appropriate to a team at the far end of its Lost Decade. Bengals fans cheered Akili Smith, in an OK-now-show-us-something kind of way.

        Smith signed Monday night, practiced Tuesday and will be expected to save the world by the middle of next week. That's the way it is for rich rookie quarterbacks on bad NFL teams.

        Here's a tip to the Bengals:

        Don't do it.

        Don't rush this kid, unless it's to the meeting room. Give him a fresh season and a fresh century, unbothered by what's happening now.

        The future isn't now for this team. (You never know when the future is for this team, or even if it will arrive. The Bengals' new motto: “Expect the worst, and you'll never be disappointed.”)

Not another Klingler
        They were mostly miserable again Saturday night against Buffalo. Dead offense, two fumbled kickoffs, mediocre pass rush, a cornerback lit up for a TD pass. August games aren't crucial, but at some point the Bengals need to believe they can win.

        Soon, the roar will begin for Smith. You can see it happening, because it happens somewhere every year. Bad team starts badly. Talk-show lines buzz, fans pledge to revolt, coach frets over his job, owner wants to see what his millions bought. Everyone thinks the same thing:

        Play the rookie.

        Give him a shot. See what he can do. He couldn't be worse than who we've got now.

        It has happened here already in the '90s. Mike Brown's most ridiculous move of The Lost Decade was not hiring Dave Shula. It was thinking rookie David Klingler was ready to be an NFL quarterback.

        Klingler started his first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when the Steelers defense was frightening. They sacked him 10 times. It killed his career.

        You rarely see NFL violence like the violence heaped upon Klingler. You didn't know whether to cover your eyes, or hope all Klingler's relatives were covering theirs. Klingler was Advil Man.

        After that Pittsburgh game, Klingler was a lump of clay. For the rest of his stay here, he was a kid afraid of the dark. Doesn't anybody remember?

        Klingler should have spent the rest of his career looking over his shoulder. But he injured his shoulder. He took the lumps for the Bengals incompetence. He was the fall guy. Literally.

        This is what you would wish for Akili Smith?

Let Blake do his job
        What is gained by seeing how Smith looks in black and blue? Six wins instead of five? Saving Bruce Coslet's job? That should matter to no one but Bruce Coslet.

        Win with Blake. Lose with him. He will play this season as a lame-duck mercenary. The Bengals have asked for Blake's loyalty while trying to get rid of him and cut his pay. Go team.

        Give Blake a chance to earn his freedom from here. He deserves that much.

        Blake is who he is: A guy who can beat you deep but won't hit the 5- or 6-yard throw on third down to keep a drive going. In Blake's six possessions last night, the Bengals had zero TDs. After the first field-goal drive, Blake misfired on three third-down passes — none longer than 5 yards — and was sacked on another.

        But no matter what Blake does, Smith will not be better. Not this year. He'll just be different.

        Smith wears the savior talk well. He is humble. He works hard. He has a gift for saying the right things. If he moves in the pocket with the grace he shows in a press conference, the Bengals may have something.

        So spare the kid from this. Don't kill his body with sacks and his spirit with boos and failure.

        The Bengals were booed off the field at halftime. Nobody is in the mood for patience. But patience with Smith isn't just needed. It's mandatory.

        If he's lucky, Smith will have a long career. If Cincinnati is lucky, it'll be here. But Smith doesn't need all the badness this decade still brings. Give him a year to breathe.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.


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