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QB Smith carrying confidence in pocket


The Cincinnati Bengals' offensive production won't rest on Akili Smith's arm, but his confidence.

Smith has completed 64.9 percent of his passes, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions on 74 attempts in the preseason. He's seemingly found a comfort level in the pocket and has been sacked only once.

Still, the Bengals are thrilled beyond the numbers he's stacked up in the preseason.

"We haven't had this type of direction in a while," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "I'm not saying we're going to be great or go to the Super Bowl or anything, but it's been a while since we've had that type of direction at the quarterback position."

Said coach Bruce Coslet: "I didn't see panic. You always look for that in a young quarterback."

Smith, 25, who played baseball two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league system before beginning his college football career, struck out in his first year in the NFL.

He completed only 52 percent of his passes (80-for-153). He threw six interceptions while connecting for only two touchdowns. He got sacked 19 times.

It was a brief glimpse of the league for Smith, who started four games as a rookie before suffering a season-ending toe injury on Oct. 31. But Smith can already see the game becoming easier for him this season.

"This is unbelievable, and I can honestly say that the game definitely slowed down for me," said Smith, the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. "I just need to continue to start preparing each and every day more and more."

Bengals receiver Damon Griffin, who was also a teammate of Smith's at the University of Oregon, has noticed a difference in Smith as well. And it's not the first time that Griffin has seen an improvement in Smith.

"I think he's going to do exactly what he did at Oregon," Griffin said. "His first year, he came in and with the complex offense, it took time to learn the stuff and feel comfortable. Now that he has been here a year, he's feeling confident and comfortable. Once he has his confidence and knows what he's doing, that's when he plays his game. He told me he's looking for perfection. Things are looking simple to him now."

Bengals vs. Ravens

Key for Ravens: Keep pressuring Akili Smith. The second-year quarterback panicked last season when forced to make quick decisions.

Biggest headache: Finishing off drives. The worst red-zone offense in the AFC last season, the Ravens had to settle for field goals on four drives inside the Bengals' 20-yard-line in their last meeting.

Stat to watch: The Bengals are 10-2 when running back Corey Dillon receives 22 or more carries. The Ravens defense allowed only 3.1 yards per carry last season, second-best in the NFL.

Billick's impression: "Cincinnati has a lot of weapons, yet they're young right now. That's something they're going to have to overcome, particularly early in the season, if they have success. That's the thing they haven't done in the past. They've struggled early in the season, kind of been out of it and then really regrouped to play well in the second half of the season."

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