Sunday, May 05, 2002

And, they're off! Race for quarterback is on

Kitna, Frerotte look sharp as QB battle opens

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte wasted no time Saturday filling the air with footballs during the first practice of Bengals minicamp.

B E N G A L S   P O L L

Who would you start at QB next season?
OK, pretend Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau have put you in charge of the Bengals. Who would you start at QB next season? Click at the bottom if you just want to view the results without voting.

  Gus Frerotte
  Jon Kitna
  Akili Smith

        They threw short and long and often and made the head coach and team president happy.

        “I thought our offense looked miles ahead of where they looked a year ago,” coach Dick LeBeau said after a practice that ran almost three hours. “They both looked very good.”

        Bengals president Mike Brown liked what he saw, too, of the participants in the 2002 quarterback derby.

        “We have a couple of guys who have real experience, and it shows,” he said. “We're going to be deeper there. Because Jon's been here a year, and what goes with that, we're going to be better, too.”

        Kitna looked confident and sharp, and his work on pass routes showed the benefits of having played a season with his receivers. Frerotte, signed as a free agent less than 72 hours before taking the field, showed the arm strength and savvy of a quarterback who has played eight NFL seasons.

        “Everybody's moving quick. It's good to be back out there,” said Frerotte, who played in a similar offensive system under Norv Turner with the Redskins. “I just got to switch in my mind — same routes, different numbers. It will take a while, but there are a lot of similarities.”

        One of Frerotte's prettiest passes of the day was a 40-yard fly pattern down the right side to rookie free agent Kwazeon Leverette. Frerotte also threaded a fastball through traffic to rookie tight end Matt Schobel in another pass drill.

        Frerotte showed no ill effects from surgery to repair a severely separated throwing shoulder in December.

        “We're watching that pretty closely,” LeBeau said. “He's working a full load. He said he threw 100 balls the other day, and that's what he'll roughly throw in a practice. I thought he looked good. There were a lot of deep throws in there.”

        Kitna threw strong out patterns to wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson and showed touch on short passes to Peter Warrick and the running backs.

        “I didn't know what to expect out of myself today,” Kitna said. “I haven't thrown a lot, but it felt good. It's somewhat like when you play golf for the first time after a long winter.”

        Kitna also illustrated a new preseason attitude. The job, he says, is his.

Bengals quarterback Gus Frerotte looks for a pass at mini-camp Saturday.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        “I tried to go back and be exactly how I was in the season last year, not how I was in minicamp, not how I was in training camp,” Kitna said. “My attitude — and I don't think I can be the best I can be any other way — is, "I'm the guy.' If somebody plays better than me, so be it.”

        Warrick said the receivers are comfortable with Kitna and will become familiar with Frerotte.

        “It helps out a lot, him knowing where we're going to be at the right time,” Warrick, a third-year receiver, said of Kitna.

        “I know Gus coming in, we just have to work with him from now until the season just trying to become one.”

        LeBeau said Akili Smith would join the quarterback race once his surgically repaired hamstring is completely healed. Smith was in street clothes Saturday.

        LeBeau also was clear in describing what will win the job, which has everything to do with improving the offense that was the league's worst at 14 points a game in 2001.

        “I'm looking for the quarterback that moves our football team and puts points on the board,” he said.

        “We don't care who that is. The final line at the quarterback position is productivity.”


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