Andre Smith feels right at home in Bengals locker room, but will he at new position?
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Andre Smith was all smiles in the Bengals locker room on Monday, because it felt like nothing had changed since he left following the 2015 season to sign with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent, except a lot had changed.
Sure, his locker cubicle was the same one he used before he left, and he'll be wearing No. 71, just as he did years ago. However, he will asked to play a new position (right guard) and even take on a leadership role with the departure of Andrew Whitworth to free agency.
He says he's looking forward to doing both.
"Like I never left," said Smith, who was selected by the Bengals in the first round of the 2009 draft out of Alabama. "I thought I would be a few lockers down. Happy they put me back in the same spot.
"Most definitely want to be the leader of the room. That’s my goal. I want to have the C (to signify he's a Captain) on my chest if possible. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to prove to these guys that I’m here to work."
Smith started 73 games during his time with the Bengals - all at right tackle - but only once played all 16 games in a season (2012) as he battled numerous injuries. He started 14 games in his final season with the team in 2015 in helping the Bengals finish with a 12-4 record and earn a playoff berth for a fifth straight season.
Smith was made expendable though after the Bengals drafted tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher 1-2 in the 2015 draft so he signed with the Vikings.
He started the first four games of the 2016 season for the Vikings at right tackle, but suffered a torn triceps injury that cost him the rest of the season. It should be noted that Minnesota went 4-0 in the games he played and 4-8 in the games he missed, and did not make the playoffs.
The Vikings opted to let Smith leave as a free agent and when the Bengals lost standout starting right guard Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns as free agent, it opened the door to bring Smith back and try him at a new position.
Smith said he hasn't played guard since his freshman year at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Ala., but that he's looking forward to the challenge.
"It’s a fresh start at a new position so it’s actually something I’m looking forward to," he said. "Anything to prolong my career. Anything to help myself value-wise. I can play guard and tackle. I think (offensive line coach) Paul (Alexander) is a great teacher and I am eager to learn from them.
"The game is fun. I’m having a great time playing the game. Last year was unfortunate, but this year I see myself with more opportunity playing guard. If the opportunity presents itself I can pop out (to tackle) if you need me to."
He's also looking forward to mentoring Ogbuehi, who is projected to be the starting left tackle this coming season, and Fisher, who is projected to the starting right tackle.
Ogbuehi started the first 11 games of 2016 at right tackle in place of Smith, but flopped, then got one more start in the next-to-last game of the season at left tackle and struggled there, too.
"It’s all mental," said Smith. "I believe he is going to do great."
Fisher has been primarily a Swiss Army knife in his first two seasons, playing some at guard, some at tackle and even as a tight end (he has two receptions for 43 yards). He started the final three games of 2016 at right tackle.
"With Fish, it’s all about confidence at tackle," said Smith. "Knowing you are that guy knowing whoever the defensive end is you are going to kick his ass. You just have to work hard every day when you come to work. Tell them to put a drop in the bucket a day and eventually the bucket will be full."
Sure, it's the same locker all right, and yep, the uniform number is the same, but there are only two starters left at the same spot on the offensive line from the last time Smith played a game with the Bengals - left guard Clint Boling and center Russell Bodine.
"Playing next to Kevin was great while I was here," said Smith. "We did some really good things. With me now playing the position he used to play. I was next to him for years and years so I understand the position a little bit. Whit taught me a lot while I was here as far as watching film, breaking down opponents, learning different tendencies of defensive linemen and what they like to do then transitioning to the field and look for it when it will happen.
"Being back here I have familiarity and know all the calls, so it’s going to be really good. I know the organization, they know me. I know the town. Great to be back."