Fans will also remember Smith’s weight and durability history. 2012 was Smith’s fourth year but the first in which he played all sixteen games. In prior years, Burke reports he “struggled to keep his weight down and could not stay healthy.” Couple those worries with the conditioning questions that arise when players miss training camp and one begins to wonder about the likelihood of prevailing against early opponents with strong outside rushers. Smith struggled against outside speed in 2012 and led the team in surrendering QB hurries. Most notable, perhaps, was the subpar performance in Week 16 against the Eagles’ Brandon Phillips where Smith gave up three sacks. In 2013 weeks one through four, anything but Andre Smith’s best professional effort could easily leave the Bengals one or two short in the win column when playoff spots are handed out.
To his credit, after signing his new deal in March, Smith said all the right things. In his last news conference in April, he talked about 2013 being the Bengals opportunity ”to make our Super Bowl run like I know we can” and claimed that he was “buying into Marvin’s system.” He also seemed to appreciate that the Bengals made draft moves to bolster their offense. The addition of running back Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert, their first round tight end pick, might put some heat into an offense that ran hot and cold in 2012, particularly with a running game that can slow down that outside rush. In addition to that, the team may be feeling pretty good about the offensive line with reports from Geoff Hobson, the team’s lead web reporter, suggesting “when the Bengals return for training camp July 25, they’ll do it with the deepest offensive line in head coach Marvin Lewis’ 11 seasons.”
Still, Adam Sesslet of NFL.com calls Smith the team’s “best-blocker.” Clearly, without Smith, easy wins become less easy and close wins become closer until too many losses add up to make the playoffs, until Marvin Lewis’s first playoff win retreats another year into the future.
So there’s your question, Bengal fan: Can Coach Lewis get his star performer to show up, bring his head and extend his star 2012 performance into 2013, be a pro and show up trim and ready for action, take care of those early games with those new offensive weapons and move into October with all those pink gloves and three or four wins? And really, what all Bengal fans hope for is to make a playoff run and then show up on that Playoff Sunday in January. If Coach Lewis can get Andre Smith to show up next Friday and bring a striped helmet with his head in it, that possibility becomes a lot more likely.