Sunday, October 06, 2002

Kitna aims to be QB solution

Bengal feels ready for 1st season start

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Colts backup quarterback Brock Huard will have a familiar view of Jon Kitna today.

        Huard, who played behind Kitna for two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, will be watching when Kitna makes his first 2002 start for the Bengals, against the Colts in the RCA Dome.

    “So we're just going to keep plugging away (with Gus Frerotte). This is all preparatory to saying that we're not going to make a change. But we are going to change the execution and timing enough so that you don't run 83 plays and come home with seven points.”
    — Dick LeBeau, Sept. 18

    “The last time (Akili Smith) played (Dec.16, 2001, at the Jets), he gave us our longest possession of the season and put six points on the board. In preseason, he played well. He played well with our first-team guys not around him. I think Akili will do well.”
    — Dick LeBeau, Sept. 25

    “I think it's important that we stabilize things. I told Jon (Kitna) to get ready to play and not to look over his shoulder. I just think it's the right thing to do, to get us stability, to get us focus, and to get us up and playing the way I know we can play.”
    — Dick LeBeau, Oct. 2

        Huard is one of Kitna's biggest boosters.

        “When he's gotten a chance to play, he's done a good job,” said Huard, who plays behind Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. “I saw what (Kitna) could do when he's been given the opportunity.

        “I think people have a tendency to downplay what he can do. Instead of just letting him play, they always talk about the things that he supposedly doesn't do well instead of the things that he is good at.”

        Among the knocks on Kitna are arm strength and his small hands, which contributed to his AFC-high 13 fumbles in 2001. He also threw 22 interceptions.

        Kitna's strengths are his intelligence, leadership and, in Cincinnati, his knowledge of coordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense.

        Kitna knows the offense better than Games1-3 starter Gus Frerotte or Game4 starter Akili Smith, and he is able to offer instruction to teammates on the field. These traits have come to the forefront this past week.

        The Bengals' quarterback roulette wheel has stopped in Kitna's slot, and barring any injury or complete breakdown of the offense — one similar to what happened in the Bengals' first four games — the job will be his for the final 12 games this season.

        “The good thing about that is now you don't have to feel like you have to go out and score 21 points in the first quarter, or else you're not going to be out there,” said Kitna, who is 24-24 in NFL starts. “Instead, it's like: "Let's go out and play. You have a whole game. Let's play. Let's make adjustments.”'

        Kitna, who played 2 1/2quarters at Atlanta, throwing for 136 yards and one interception, inherits an offense that is averaging four points a game. The Bengals have one offensive touchdown this season.

        The Bengals' negative point differential is one of the worst in NFL history over a season's first four games. They've been outscored 119-23, a difference of 96 points. The 2001 Washington Redskins had a greater negative differential — 110 points — after four games, and the 1961 Oakland Raiders were outscored by 92 points in their first four games.

        Kitna knows what he's getting into.

        He blames the instability at quarterback for most of the offense's problems. He's the third starter in as many weeks.

        “It's as ugly as I've seen in my seven years in the league,” Kitna said of the Bengals' offense. “That's the reality of it. But the other reality is, as a competitor, it's not over.”

        The awkwardness of the pass offense is expected to smooth out with Kitna at quarterback. Last season, Kitna and the wide receivers struggled early with route reading and adjustments before getting hot in the last two games.

        Kitna threw for 751 yards in those two games, both victories. But Kitna earlier had criticized the receivers in public for making incorrect reads.

        “Last year, people thought that the receivers and me didn't have a good relationship. We had a great relationship,” Kitna said. “Sometimes in a good relationship, you don't agree on things, and when you don't agree, something isn't quite right, or there's a miscommunication, you have to talk about it.

        “I ask them to hold me accountable for the things I should do. I demand the same thing out of them.

        “I have confidence with the guys in the huddle. I know that if we can be just a little above average in the passing game, we'll be OK. We have a great running back (Corey Dillon), but our passing game hasn't hurt people early in the game, and, therefore, our running back is out of the game by the second half.”


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