Friday, May 1, 2009

The Weight Is Over

With the sixth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select…Andre Smith, offensive tackle from Alabama.

My head immediately fell into my hands. I tried my best to muffle the expletives. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. I started to breath like I was in the middle of a Lamaze class. It was no use; nothing seemed to work. My biggest fear had come true.

For the past month or so, leading up to the NFL Draft, I have been dreading the Bengals selection at the #6 spot. I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that we were going to take Andre Smith, the much maligned offensive lineman whose draft-stock has plummeted in recent weeks faster than Wall Street; it’s the same terrible feeling I get right before watching anything that involves Patrick Dempsey. I knew we needed to draft a tackle (unless we wanted to send Levi Jones’s corpse out for another season), but I figured Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe – the top two tackles in the draft – would be off the board by the time we had to select. Luckily, to my surprise, there we were at the sixth spot, with Eugene Monroe sitting in the Green Room all ripe for the picking. But the Football Gods couldn’t pass up this golden opportunity to laugh in my face, so they sent out Roger Goddell to announce Smith’s name. I must have been a terrible person in my previous life.

Now you might be wondering, “Justin, why are you so distraught?”. Well, let us review Andre’s track record over the past 4 months: On December 29, 2008, Smith was suspended from the Alabama program for the Allstate Sugar Bowl – a BCS, nationally-televised game. The last game of the season, the biggest game of his career, and Smith is suspended for having illegal conversations with a professional sports agent. Strike one.

After declaring for the ’09 NFL Draft a few days later, Smith preceded to show up at the Rookie Combine over-weight and out of shape. Strike two. Following a few days of poor workouts, Andre decided to leave the combine early (strike three), and did so without informing anyone (strike four). He even admitted that he was unprepared (strike five), and then went on to have a sub-par “Pro Day” workout at Alabama (strike 684). He ran the 40-yard dash (with his shirt off?) in a blazing 5.28 seconds, which was barely faster than Stephen Hawking’s time. Everything he touched turned to crap; he was like the “bizzaro King Midas.”

But don’t think I gave up on Andre right away. I’ve spent the past week trying to talk myself into the draft pick, trying to rationalize and comprehend why we would take Smith ahead of Eugene Monroe (the offensive tackle from Virginia). I read every piece of post-draft coverage and analysis from every major sports-news outlet. I even read every last bit of propaganda they threw at me on Bengals.com. It didn’t matter. Regardless of how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to support this pick – which is really saying something, because I have talked myself into a lot of ridiculous things concerning the Bengals over the past few seasons. I talked myself into Akili Smith and Dick LeBeau. I convinced myself that Carson Palmer would come back during the ‘05 playoff game, despite the fact that his knee practically went through a meat grinder. I fooled myself into thinking that Chad Ocho Stinko would stop whining and start acting like a grown man. I told myself that Chris Henry’s arrest was a one-time thing. And a two-time thing. And a three-time thing…

I induced myself into believing that Leon Hall could make a tackle, Chris Perry could be a starting running back, and that Shayne Graham could make a clutch field goal. I’ve even convinced myself that one night, owner Mike Brown will be visited by three ghosts, and then wake up, buy everyone in Cincinnati a ham, and hire a real General Manager. Over the years, I’ve talked myself into every single one of these things, and yet I can’t talk myself into Andre Smith. I want to, but I can’t.

And to top it all off, the Bengals have yet to give a reasonable excuse for passing on Monroe, who was consistently ranked as the better offensive tackle on nearly every “big board” of nearly every “draft guru.” The team’s front office hinted that they had slight concerns about a knee injury that Monroe had TWO YEARS AGO (and has shown no negative side-effects of since), but they seem to be perfectly “a-ok” with the laundry list of problems that Smith has had in the past TWO MONTHS. Does that make any sense? Plus, it’s not as if Smith’s knees are any safer than Monroe’s. And if you believe they are, then you’re ignoring the infallible laws of physics. Smith is almost an exact clone of the fat kid from Old School that flips over the vault. He wears ‘71’ on his jersey because it’s the same number as his waste size. Try balancing a boulder on top of two wet noodles, and then tell me that Andre’s knee are a safe bet. I can’t figure it out. No matter how many times I examine this selection, it still continues to make zero sense to me. As George Costanza once said, “This thing is like an onion; the more layers you peel off, the more it stinks.”

In the meantime, the Cincinnati organization – from Mike Brown all the way down to the water-boy – continues to stand by this pick. They swear that they did their homework, and that it somehow shows that Smith was the best fit for the team. They insist, despite what the “draft gurus” might say or the missteps Smith has had along the way, that Andre was the smart choice. I’m not buying it. Forgive me for being skeptical, but I have a hard time trusting the same people (notably Brown) that have drafted the likes of David Klingler, Big Daddy Wilkinson, Reinard Wilson, Akili Smith, Peter Warrick, and Chris Perry…all in the first round. At this point, I think I’ve earned the right to have the same confidence level as Eeyore.

Nevertheless, if there is any silver lining to this situation, it lies in the fact that technically, the jury is still out on this one. Smith still has a chance to prove himself worthy of the sixth overall selection. He still has the opportunity to prove that he won’t hold-out for the entire Bengals’ Training Camp while trying to get a huge contract, or that he won’t skip his offseason workouts and training sessions to go hang out at The Sizzler. He has the ability to establish himself as a dominant offensive tackle, a good teammate, and upstanding member of the Cincinnati community. He can show everyone that all those stupid mistakes he made were just a few minor growing pains, distant speed-bumps in his spotless rear-view mirror. Andre Smith can still prove everyone wrong.

If he does, I will be the first one to admit I was mistaken. And if he doesn’t, I’ll be the last one to be surprised.


Thanks for reading

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