Friday, August 09, 2002

Kitna relaxed, confident for first start

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna throws a pass in camp last week.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
| ZOOM |
        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Jon Kitna needed a marker that wasn't dried up. Seemed every pen he was handed by fans after Wednesday night's practice wouldn't write. Then a boy, about age 10, handed him one that was perfect.

        “I need this,” Kitna said. “I'll give you my shoes for it.”

        “Nah,” the boy said.

        “I mean, you don't want a pair of football shoes?”

        The boy realized the value of his trade and agreed. Kitna unlaced his cleats, slipped them off and signed his name to both of them, handing them to the boy in exchange for the marker.

        This year's Kitna is much more relaxed, off and on the field, than the 2001 model. Signed as a free agent in March 2001, Kitna came to Bengals training camp last year locked in a three-way battle with Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith. Kitna was a bit tentative. He didn't know people. He said he was just trying to win the job. He tried to play perfectly as the one player who was familiar with the newly installed offense of first-year coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

    What: Preseason Game 1.

    When: 7:30 p.m. today.

    Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.

    Television: Live, WKRC (Channel 12), WDTN (Channel 2) in Dayton.

    Radio: Live, WCKY-AM (1360), WOFX-FM (92.5).

        Kitna will get the first chance to hang onto the job when he starts tonight in the Bengals' preseason opener at Buffalo.

        “My approach is I've come to a point where I'm tired of having to prove myself every year,” said Kitna, who started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks in 1996. “And I've come to the point where, "Hey, I'm going to go out and do my best, and if it's good enough, it is, and if it's not, it's not.'

        “I can't sit there and worry about every single throw, can't be thinking, "So-and-so has a better arm than me.' I just have to go out and do what I'm good at doing and be the quarterback I am. I can't be what everybody else is. I just have to do what I can do. There is a lot of freedom in that. It has been great just to go out and play.”

        He is involved in another competition, this year with Gus Frerotte. But instead of treading lightly coming into camp, Kitna said he considered himself the starter and was going to concentrate on getting ready for the season.

        Mike Brown likes what he sees so far.

        “Just having been with everyone in this situation for a year has helped,” the Bengals president said. “I think another part is he has pretty well mastered the offense. It comes to him readily. He wants to assert himself, and he should.”

        Why the change in attitude?

        “Just maturity in Christ, understanding, growing more in my faith and my trust in Christ and knowing that God has everything in control and just wants me to find out what it is I can do,” Kitna said. “I can't try to sway anybody or worry about things that are out of my control.”

        But don't misinterpret Kitna's evangelical Christian faith as a sign of weakness on the field. If faith were a weakness, Kitna said, he would have quit last season when he started 15 games for the Bengals, who were the league's lowest-scoring team.

        He threw 22 interceptions and lost his job, for a week at least, during a seven-game losing streak.

        “I came into this league and people told me I had no chance,” he said. “I've been here seven years. It's far greater than I ever thought it would be. Does that mean I'm trying to compete any less now? Heck no. I'm competing harder than ever.

        “I don't think people should ever misconstrue it as God completed this pass, or God didn't complete this pass. But he gives us the ability and wants us to take care of our abilities.”

        Kitna threw for 751 yards in the final two games of last season, both victories. He made believers out of many of his teammates, a faith in Kitna that has carried into 2002.

        “We've responded positively to him,” center Rich Braham said. “We know what he can do in a game when he's on. When Jon's having a good game, he can light it up out there. He showed it.”

        So far so good for the new Kitna. He was 5-for-7 passing for 40 yards and one touchdown in last weekend's intrasquad scrimmage.

        “I'm not afraid to make a mistake now,” he said. “I'm going to throw the ball where I think it needs to be thrown, and if something bad happens, it happens. I'm going to do my best.”


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