Shaun Smith to sign with Bengals

Veteran defensive tackle Shaun Smith will reportedly sign with the Bengals on Wednesday, which tells me the team must be concerned about Tank Johnson’s injury situation.

We already know Domata Peko is out at least until the season finale at the Jets following arthroscopic knee surgery, but Johnson is dealing with back and foot injuries. And for the Bengals to go to such drastic measures as to sign Smith means the team probably isn’t convinced Johnson will make it through the rest of the season.

Smith, 28, has good size at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds and he played for the Bengals from 2004-06. He started five games at defensive tackle during the ’05 season when the Bengals won the AFC North championship.

In 2007, Smith signed a four-year, $8.6 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns (which the Bengals could have matched, but wisely chose not to) and he started 10 games in 2007 and nine in ’08. Smith — who was best known in Cleveland for punching quarterback Brady Quinn during a dispute last year in the weight room — was cut by the Browns during the preseason this year. Smith was then signed by the Detroit Lions, who quickly cut him.

It was learned soon after that Smith was suspended four games by the NFL for testing positive for a banned supplement. However, he was somehow able to serve said suspension while looking for work this year. So, he will be able to play for the Bengals immediately, although I find it highly unlikely that he will. This is just an insurance policy and he will be on the active roster, but inactive for game days. At least for now.

Even if Johnson is hurt worse than the team is letting on, they could activate Orien Harris who they picked up off the street before they went after Smith (which would lead one to believe they like Harris — who they traded straight-up for Brian Leonard and then got back — more than they like Smith).

Or, a more likely option is to “go small” with Frostee Rucker seeing most of his action at tackle, Jonathan Fanene seeing snaps at tackle, and Michael Johnson playing more at DE (if Fanene moves inside, Johnson would take his snaps on the outside). That scenario isn’t ideal because it leaves the Bengals susceptible to the run up the middle, but with Peko out and Johnson hurting, they’ve got to do something. Thank goodness Pat Sims is healthy … knock on wood. Not that Sims has been tearing it up or anything, but the 2008 third-round pick out of Auburn is a solid player and maybe he will break out now that he’s starting and getting more playing time.

Final analysis: This is kind of a ho-hum move but I like that the Bengals are trying to cover all their bases. Smith is a bit of a clown (did I say “a bit of”?) but he’s probably as good as you could hope to find off the scrap heap at a position like D-tackle.

Now if the Bengals could just do something about that depleted depth at safety.