Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith made his training camp debut at practice Monday, marking the first time since the Jan. 7 playoff loss in Houston he’s been on the same field with his teammates.
Smith missed all of the voluntary offseason workouts and the mandatory minicamp for “personal reasons,” and though he reported to camp on time last week, a calf injury led the team to hold him out of the first four practices of camp.
“I think it’s a big step, coming back and being with my team for the first time this season,” Smith said. “It helps build camaraderie, me being out there and working with them. It was exciting.”
Smith’s spring absence led to speculation about him being out of shape, an issue he battled earlier in his career, after signing a three-year, $18 million contract April 25. But Smith said he underwent an intense offseason regimen at Warehouse Performance Institute in Birmingham, Ala., and was dedicated to staying in shape.
“This is probably the best shape I’ve been in since I’ve come to training camp in Cincinnati,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden agreed.
“Just seeing him for the first time when he came back for training camp, I thought he looked totally different,” Gruden said. “I just thought he looked stronger, bigger. It’s hard for him to be bigger, but he looked more defined and muscular. I think I took some of his fat and he took some of my muscle.”
Listed at 335 pounds on the roster, Smith reported to camp at 342 thanks to the strength training, which he combined with cardio.
“My wind is great,” he said. “I’m really excited about that. I just have to continue to work on my technique, sharpen up some things and play even faster.”
Smith was eased into things on his first day, often times rotating out after two, sometimes three plays at a time.
“It’s good to get him back in the rotation and playing again,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “I don’t think there were too many mistakes that went on. Mainly he was pretty sharp. It’s good to get all the starters back going.”
Mentally, Smith he felt up to speed. But he said there was some rust physically.
“Just a little bit,” he said. “I’ve just got to bend some more, got to be able to bend and move my feet better. Just things I can work on better throughout training camp so I can translate it over to the regular season.”
Smith took some good-natured ribbing from teammates and coaches during his first practice, which he said he expected and accepted.
“Of course guys are going to mess with you, but everyone is pretty excited for me to be out there,” he said. “I was happy to see that.”
Gruden said the reception Smith received proved his missed spring workouts are in the past.
“I’m glad he took care of what he had to take care of off the field and he’s back here with his teammates,” he said. “No grudges, no hard feelings. I’m glad to get him back.”