Saturday, August 24, 2002

Bengals QB should be decided tonight


Kitna, Frerotte take competition against Saints

By Mark Curnutte mcurnutte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals' quarterback race between Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte is too close to call, so what happens tonight in the Bengals' preseason game against the New Orleans Saints could decide who will be named the regular-season starter.

        Kitna, who has led the Bengals to 10 points in two preseason appearances, will get his second preseason start. Frerotte will play next, followed by Akili Smith.

        Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said he will announce his decision on the quarterback next week, probably Monday. When asked earlier this week if the choice is 100 percent his, LeBeau said: “Yes, it is. It is generally the jurisdiction of the head coaching position, I believe.”

        True, but LeBeau will get plenty of input from below and above him in the Bengals' power structure.

        Management appears to be leaning toward Frerotte. He is more athletic and has the arm strength Kitna lacks and Bengals president Mike Brown likes.

        But Kitna appears to have his supporters, too, primarily Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Kitna, who is running Bratkowski's offense for a second season, has looked smooth and in control of the scheme, while Frerotte has been choppy and uncomfortable at times.

        How much each quarterback will play, only LeBeau knows.

        “From my observation, (the quarterback competition) has been pretty even,” LeBeau said. “None of them have done poorly, and none of them have eliminated themselves. In my eye, we've got a good situation, but it's just not a clear-cut situation. I want to make the best possible decision that I can make, and I will make it. I just want to see them all play again.”

        Although the timetable is the same as last season, when Kitna was named the starter ahead of Scott Mitchell and Smith after the third preseason game, the 2002 derby has been highlighted by much better performances.

        Kitna is 14-for-21 passing in the preseason with no touchdown passes or interceptions. He has displayed command of the offense that comes with having been the starter for 15 games last season, and, he says, he has done what he was asked to do - complete a high percentage of passes and avoid turnovers.

        Frerotte is 12-for-20 passing for 123 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown in two games. Frerotte, who says he and Kitna should get more preseason playing time, was intercepted on fourth-and-10 against the Indianapolis Colts, and the pick was returned 77 yards for a score.

        Smith, who this week said again that the Bengals should trade or release him if he isn't part of their future, is 19-for-33 passing for 125 yards and one touchdown. He has led six scoring drives in the preseason but has played exclusively against second- and third-team defenders.

        LeBeau says Smith is still a contender. Bratkowski says the race is between Kitna and Frerotte.

        While indecision swirls around them, Bengals offensive players are reciting the company line.

        “The coaches have a tough decision, because all three guys are pretty productive,” offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. “You'll be shorting one guy if you name one off one quarter's work.”

        Said running back Brandon Bennett: “I try not to worry about that. Either way, I have to block or catch or run and do whatever for whoever is in there. Really, I'm not going to do anything any different, no matter who's in there.”

        Whoever he is, the starting quarterback will have eight practices to work exclusively with the first-string offense to prepare for the Bengals' Sept. 8 opener against San Diego at Paul Brown Stadium.

       



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