The Big Question: Is Andre Smith legit?

After a disappointing rookie season, is Cincinnati Bengals' 2009 first-round pick Andre Smith ready for a breakthrough year?

CINCINNATI -- Regardless of the player, I stand firm in saying it's foolish to label someone a draft bust after one season. For the best example in the AFC North, look no further than Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

But following a disastrous rookie season, Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith certainly deserves to be on the watch list from the 2009 class.

From start to finish, last year could not have gone any worse for the No. 6 overall pick. Smith was a lightning rod for controversy even before he was drafted -- he unexpectedly left the NFL combine and switched agents during the draft process.

Once selected by the Bengals, a lengthy contract dispute and a fractured foot contributed to what the Bengals are now calling Smith's "redshirt season." He made a lot of money to play only six games, mostly as a reserve.

Many of Smith's poor rookie memories could be erased with a solid sophomore campaign for the reigning AFC North champs. But the Bengals aren't just handing Smith the starting right tackle job this offseason; he has to prove he's ready.

"Anybody would rather earn a job than it be given [to you]," Smith said. "If you're working hard and the guys behind you are working hard, it's only going to make you better."

To get better Smith must first overcome a recent foot surgery. The procedure was done to help avoid any further complications. But as a result, Smith doesn't expect to practice with the Bengals until May.

After that, Smith hopes it's full speed ahead in 2010.

"My expectation is to go out and start every single regular-season game ... just have a great year," an optimistic Smith said.