Thursday, September 06, 2001

Kitna's old pal now new foe

Ex-teammates clash Sunday

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The last time Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna and Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy were on the same field, they were teammates at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash.

        On Sunday, they'll be on opposite sides of the ball when the Bengals open the regular season against New England, playing against each other and the backdrop of a bond that stretches back to third grade and Tacoma's East Side Boys Club.

        Kitna will be the starting quarterback in his first game with the Bengals after playing four seasons in Seattle.

        Milloy has started 74 consecutive regular-season games for the Patriots and is the undisputed leader of the New England clubhouse.

        New England was 3-1 in the preseason and limited opponents to 41 points. Its defense poses several potential problems for the Bengals, and Milloy is usually in the middle of it.

        “Their team obviously is built a lot around their linebackers and getting Lawyer Milloy down around the line, making a lot of tackles in the running game,” Kitna said. “Coach (Bill) Belichick is one of the better schemers in the game. He is going to come in with something you haven't seen before. You also know that when he comes out after halftime, he usually has a big adjustment. You kind of have to play it as two different halves.”

        Milloy, who's a year younger than Kitna and rushed for more than 1,000 yards and intercepted seven passes as a Lincoln High senior, hopes to greet Kitna before the game — and during the game on a blitz.

        “I know he's a competitor, and if we let him get going, he can be very productive,” said Milloy, who saw limited preseason action. “Our emphasis is, try to get to him early and try to rattle him like any quarterback.”

        The Patriots also expect to see lots of Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, who was held out and had only nine preseason carries, including an 87-yard

        touchdown. Milloy has a tie to Dillon, too, playing at the University of Washington for three seasons before Dillon came there for one season.

        “The same respect goes out to (Dillon as Kitna),” Milloy said. “Obviously, the way he has approached the NFL with his professionalism, the way he plays the game — he demands that respect not only from former colleagues but from the entire league. You have that guy in the back of your mind. He's the No.1 back in the league right now. He's equivalent where (Denver's) Terrell Davis was before he got hurt. (Dillon) definitely sets the tone for that team.”

        Kitna, who's looking forward to playing an entire game with Dillon behind him in the backfield, doesn't plan on saying a word to Milloy during the game. And there'll be no talking smack.

        “Just out of respect for the person that he is,” said Milloy, who has led the Pats in total tackles the past three seasons and was voted to Pro Bowls in 1998 and '99. “He knows he's going to get my best. I just try to go out there and hit hard.”

        Kitna, who beat out Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith for the starter's job, expects nothing short of a hard-hitting game from his boyhood pal. They grew up about 5 miles apart and played on boys club teams before moving on to Lincoln High.

        Kitna will be at the controls of an offense that gained 1,579 total yards in four preseason games, outdistancing opponents by more than 500 yards but still winning only one of four games. Kitna was 36-for-69 passing for 368 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

        “Being the first time we've ever got to play against each other in football, it's going to be fun,” Kitna said. “He's the kind of guy like Junior Seau, like Rodney Harrison, like Warren Sapp. Guys who like to compete.”

        It won't be as much fun on the field as it will be for their families and the mutual friends they have back home in Tacoma.

        “Afterwards,” Milloy said, “it will be, "How's the family? How are the kids? I'll see you back at home.'”


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