Monday, August 12, 2002

Akili Smith back in the mix

Bengals QB's play could make him starter contender

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Akili Smith's improved play, highlighted by his second-half performance Friday at Buffalo, continues to complicate the Bengals' quarterback picture.

        On Sunday, with the regular-season opener four weeks away, Bengals coach Dick LeBeau would not rule out giving Smith the start in the third preseason game but also said he “could see a scenario where we would have a starting quarterback named (before) the third week.”

        “We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there,” LeBeau said of Game 3, Aug.24 at home against New Orleans. “We'll see how this next game goes.”

        Game 2 is Saturday at Indianapolis. Gus Frerotte will get the start. Jon Kitna started against Buffalo.

        “The good is all three played very, very well, and I guess the negative is you can only play one of them at a time,” LeBeau said.

        Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski would like to name a starter sooner than later.

        “By giving (Smith) the start (in Game 3), you might cloud it up and not give the other two (Kitna and Frerotte) the opportunity to do what they need to do,” Bratkowski said. “It's something we're going to have to look at hard. I haven't talked to Dick about it.”

        Smith, who was 10-for-17 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown pass against the Bills, did help himself Friday, but it might not be enough to lift him up to the level of Kitna and Frerotte.

        “I fought my way back into the picture now,” Smith said. “If LeBeau decides to (start Smith in Game 3), I welcome the challenge, but if he doesn't, like I said before, I'll be ready when the season starts.”

        Last season, LeBeau promised each of his top three quarterbacks — Kitna, Smith and Scott Mitchell — that they would get a preseason start. Kitna was named the starter after the third game.

        Naming a starter before Game 3 would be better than waiting even a few more days. The third game is the high point of the preseason. Regulars often play into the second half to get them used to coming back after halftime.

        “The third game is a big barometer, and it's a chance for those two (Kitna and Frerotte) to get some extended playing time,” Bratkowski said. “It's not going to be an easy decision because Akili has done so well. But we're going to have to do what's best for the team and for us to win early in the season.”

        Smith endured some tightness in his left hamstring during Sunday afternoon's practice and had an ice bag strapped to his leg before it was over. He said he will return to practice today.

        Smith also expects to play against the Colts.

        Bratkowski, by Sunday afternoon, had taken the opportunity to watch game film.

        “They both played well,” he said of Kitna and Frerotte, when asked to evaluate the quarterbacks' performances. “I think Jon was the most consistent in his throws, yet they were efficient in that they led scoring drives. Gus did a good job. A couple of throws got off there on him. I know he'd like to do better. When Gus got in there, he had the misfortune of having guys commit a couple of penalties.”

        As for Smith, Bratkowski said: “He did a good job. There are things we'd like to see him do better. It was the same case with the other two. (Smith's) reads were good. For the most part, his throws were good. He did a nice job.”


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