Monday, May 07, 2001

Bengals' QB race off and running

All three have pluses, minuses

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Offensive captain Willie Anderson, for one, likes the three-way competition at quarterback between Jon Kitna, Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith.

        The left tackle said Sunday the open tryouts for the starting job at the team's most visible position sends a positive message to the other players.

        “It gives the idea that you have to work for a job,” Anderson said Sunday between minicamp practices at Paul Brown Stadium.

        “Guys know the coaching staff now isn't going to just give a guy a job because of his status. You're going to have to work for everything you get around here now. It's going to be a three-man competition, a race, and that will help the team rally around him because we'll see him win the job.”

        Last year, Smith was handed the job, and former coach Bruce Coslet and Bengals president Mike Brown said the team would go as far as Smith carried it.

        Two years ago, after Smith's contract holdout, Jeff Blake was the starter while Smith was groomed.

        The QB job in 2001 is indeed wide open, and the quarterback who performs the best will start. It's so close the Bengals have listed the three in alphabetical order as No.1 on their minicamp depth chart. They have been splitting minicamp snaps equally.

        Who has the edge? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Here's a closer look at the quarterbacks.

        • Kitna, 28, was signed as a free agent from Seattle in the offseason.

        Pluses: He played in the offensive system with the Seahawks under new Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. As a result, Kitna looks the most comfortable and polished in practice. He was a playoff quarterback two years ago.

        Minuses: Not very athletic outside the pocket. He has shown flashes of inconsistency. He threw 19 interceptions and 18 touchdown passes a year ago in Seattle. His arm strength also has been questioned.

        Kitna says: “They said this is an open competition. Any time you want to know about it, look at the contract. They didn't give me backup money. They gave me money that said, "We think you're starting caliber. We think Akili is starting caliber. And we're going to let this thing fall where it may.'

        “But that's not even on my mind right now; it's establishing continuity. That will come in training camp and when we start playing games.”

        Bratkowski says: “Jon has a lot of carryover. There's a comfort level he has because he's been in (the offense). He has a confidence that's carrying over to his throws.”

        • Mitchell, 33, was 2-3 in five Bengals starts in 2000. He re-signed as an unrestricted free agent two weeks ago.

        Pluses: He earned teammates' respect last season for his leadership. He threw for more than 2,900 yards three consecutive years in Detroit. Mitchell also is decisive in the pocket.

        Minuses: At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, he is not the quickest or fastest QB in the league. His arm strength also has been questioned.

        Mitchell says: “They have confidence in me and believe in me. (Coach Dick LeBeau) has confidence in me. I want to be here. This is a good opportunity. As long as they put the best guy in there (who) gives us the best chance to win, I'm all for that.”

        Bratkowski says: “Scott has done a good job. He's an experienced guy.”

        • Smith, 25, was 2-9 in his first season as a starter and lost the job after Game 10.

        Pluses: He's a natural athlete who appears hungry to regain his starting job his teammates' confidence. Smith has great arm strength and is showing greater touch on short passes in minicamp.

        Minuses: He was sacked 36 times a year ago and habitually holds onto the ball too long in the pocket.

        Smith says: “I'm real upbeat. I'm having fun out there. I'm not going to let the competition bother me because, like I said before, if my game is on, I'll win the job. So I'm pretty much worried about myself.”

        Bratkowski says: “Akili has shown me the work he's done here in the past month and a half has paid off. He feels pretty comfortable with some of the aspects of the new stuff.”


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