"I can't put him on the team if I haven't seen him perform," Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Doug Berry told the Winnipeg Free Press. "I mean, we're going to have to see him do it, because we've got other guys that I've seen do it, and that are doing it very well."
Smith, 25, has been sidelined by a foot injury and has missed virtually all of training camp, which began last week. It is unlikely, unless he makes substantial progress early in the week, that Smith, who is serving a one-year suspension from the NFL, will play in Friday's preseason opener against Montreal.
The former University of Oregon star has said that his goal is to play again in the NFL and that signing with the Blue Bombers two weeks ago represented a means to that end. But he has been hampered by the foot injury since his arrival at camp and, while Smith has made some progress in his recovery, the injury is only about 75 percent to 80 percent rehabilitated, he estimated.
"Sure, it's frustrating," Smith said. "I want to play football. It's just tough to play when you're hurt."
Smith is listed fourth on the Blue Bombers' depth chart, and the players in front of him include Charles Roberts, who led the CFL in rushing in 2005 with 1,624 yards. In his absence, young tailbacks such as Tellis Redmon and Henri Childs have moved ahead of Smith, who signed a one-year contract that is believed to have a base salary of about $70,000.
While his arrival in the CFL wasn't greeted with the kind of attention the Toronto Argonauts will garner for the contract agreement they reached Sunday with suspended Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams, the addition of Smith was supposed to be a significant move for the Winnipeg franchise. And it was supposed to be meaningful for Smith, as well, because it might mean a second chance at an NFL career. It appears, though, that Winnipeg officials' patience is wearing thin.
"It's not that Onterrio Smith can't do it, [because] he probably can," Berry said. "But I haven't seen it [yet]. Nobody's seen it here. We've heard about it, but we haven't seen it."
A fourth-round choice by the Vikings in the 2003 draft, after a troubled college career, Smith rushed for 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons, and also registered 51 receptions. But he was suspended for four games in 2004 for a repeat violation of the league substance abuse policy, and then was suspended last June for an entire season for yet another violation.
The one-year suspension was originally set to end June 7, but was extended, and now the earliest Smith can apply for reinstatement to the NFL is October. It is believed that Smith remained in the NFL drug program. That means, while the CFL does not test its players for drugs, the NFL can continue to regularly test Smith even while he plays north of the border.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.