For the first seven years of his NFL career, right tackle Andre Smith was a staple of the Cincinnati Bengals offense at offensive tackle. Now the 2009 first-round pick is entering another chapter of his career with some familiarity and some new elements that create a challenge for him.
The familiarity comes with head coach Mike Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals during Smith’s first five years in the NFL, and former teammates Terence Newman and Emmanuel Lamur.
“Zimmer, having a relationship with him and knowing Terence and E-man signed before I did here also, knowing those two guys and having a relationship with Zimmer, it just made the transition easier,” Smith said.
But there has also been plenty of unfamiliar ground to cover for the 6-foot-4, 325-pound offensive tackle. The blocking schemes and offense in general were not familiar to him upon arrival in Minnesota.
“It’s totally different. I’ve got to erase all that. Now everything is coming a lot easier,” he said. “We’re actually on the field and we’re going through it against moving competition.”
Smith has been taking mostly second-team reps at right tackle, behind former starter Phil Loadholt, who has missed the last 22 games (regular season and playoffs) with injury. Smith did get some work with the first-team offense during the three weeks of organized team activities and is expected to offer stiff competition for the starting spot.
“We’re just competing. Some days (Loadholt) goes first-team, some days I go first-team,” Smith said. “It’s just competition between him and I. We’re just going to work hard and push each other to be great.”
The offensive line is expected to have a dramatically different look than it did in 2015 with injured players returning and free-agent acquisitions like Smith and left guard Alex Boone added. The center position, with John Sullivan and Joe Berger in competition, and right tackle are expected to provide the closest competition for starting roles.
Smith joins the Vikings on somewhat equal ground with Loadholt since neither of them has experience working under new offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who retained assistant offensive line coach Hank Fraley. To a man, the players attest to Sparano’s fiery attitude.
“He’s great,” Smith said with a smile. “It brings back the old college days when I had coach (Joe) Pendry – just curse you out, tell you how he feels. He wants it done his (expletive) way and stuff like that. It’s good to get back to that.
“You always have a learning curve learning a new system, but the way they communicate, Tony and Hank do a great job of giving us information. They translate it enough to where it’s easy to put in. It’s been pretty good.”
Smith said the Bengals “went back and forth” when considering the potential to bring him back, “but it was just time for something new.”
“It’s about being a professional. Things didn’t go the way everybody always anticipated them so you have to learn to move on,” he said. “It’s being a pro.”
The next step in his career was to go to a place that has some familiarity with Zimmer and other ex-Bengals, but also features one of the best running backs of all time.
“I know I’m going to have a great running back in Adrian. Just give him a crease and he’ll take you to glory. He’s just a great player,” Smith said. “I love to block for him, and Teddy is a great young quarterback in the NFL. Just give him some time and he can make some great plays for us also.”