Akili looking for early camp return

12-26-01, 10:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Quarterback Akili Smith's torn hamstring was surgically repaired late Wednesday afternoon and his return has been projected for early to mid training camp.

Trainer Paul Sparling said Wednesday night there were no complications during the one-hour procedure by team doctor Angelo Colosimo at University Hospital after he repaired the two tears sustained Dec. 16 against the Jets.

"There were no surprises. It went smoothly," Sparling said. "He should

be back running in six months. It's too early to say if he'll be back for (the pre-season opener)."

Smith will spend the next three to four weeks in Cincinnati and then Sparling thinks he'll head back home to San Diego to continue his rehab. He'll miss the minicamp and voluntary camps leading up to July's training camp, but he'll be able to start running in late June.

"Six months after surgery," Sparling said. "Then we'll see if he can be ready for camp. It's too early say exactly when. But anywhere from early to mid camp."

INJURY UPDATE: Steelers RB Jerome Bettis missed Wednesday's practice with his groin problem and is questionable. He's been talking about getting back the last two games to get his timing down for the playoffs, but he's not expected to get a lot of carries Sunday even if he plays. He'd be shooting for his 10th 100-yard career day against the Bengals in 13 games. The Bengals haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight straight games. The last two to do it were Bettis with 153 on Oct. 7 and the Bears' Anthony Thomas with 188 on Oct. 21. . .

Bengals QB Scott Mitchell (rib cage) is getting better, but he had trouble in Wednesday's cold and still can't practice. He's still doubtful for Sunday and trainer Paul Sparling said the best-case scenario is he can be an emergency hand-off guy. . . LG Matt O'Dwyer had a MRI on his knee and it confirmed the sprain in his medial collateral knee ligament that cost him three games earlier in the season is low grade and he's questionable. . .OLB Steve Foley (back) is doubtful.

MOVING ON: In the first day back to work since their sideline blowup in Baltimore, quarterback Jon Kitna and wide receiver Chad Johnson could be seen talking with each other in their own huddle as Wednesday's practice drew to a close.

"There's no need for that. We're professionals here. Life goes on. It's over," said Johnson, the rookie receiver, asked before practice about having a clear-the-air session with Kitna. "I'm not even thinking about that anymore."

"No, we're men," said Kitna, the veteran quarterback, about a possible talk. "We just have to handle things as men. . .You can talk about it all you want. You can have a little pow-wow or meeting, but that is not going to solve it. You solve it by having those things happen positively in games."

On Sunday, Johnson dropped two big-play passes and got outfought by Ravens cornerback Duane Starks on a fade route that got intercepted in the end zone. In Wednesday's discussion of trust between receivers and quarterbacks, Kitna tried to be general.

"Trust is the biggest thing," Kitna said. "That they know that if they run their route and they know they are supposed to get the ball

on that play that they are going to get it if they are open. It is the same thing on the other end of it. I know that if I have a one-on-one situation, I'm going to give my guy a chance to go up there and make a play for me."

For his part, Johnson made peace after he was the one who objected to Kitna's comments on the sideline after the second drop.

"I made two critical errors that I don't believe I should have made," Johnson said. Asked if he and Kitna could ever reach the trust they both seek, Johnson said, "Yeah, of course. That's all there is to it. We'll get it right."

POWER PLAY: Head coach Dick LeBeau, who is believed to have one year left on his contract, allowed Wednesday he doesn't think he's in job trouble at the end of the season. That's what Bengals President Mike Brown has been indicating, but not confirming.

There are those who want to add "General Manager," to the title of whoever is the Bengals head coach and take the duties from Brown. The reality is, Brown and the current head coach don't want to do it that way.

LeBeau said Wednesday he

had enough going on as coach and said, "I wouldn't want it."

The topic came up when LeBeau was asked if he has enough power to control his own destiny.

"I think I have as much say on what goes on here as any coach who has in his title, 'Head Coach,' not 'Head Coach and General Manager,'" LeBeau said. "I am consulted and involved in everything that we do. The answer to that question is, within the job description that I have, yes.

"Now, do I have as much say as a man who is Head Coach and General Manager? There aren't very many of those to my knowledge. That guy probably has a little bit better situation in terms of absolute control. That job doesn't exist anymore. They are doing all right in Green Bay, but I wouldn't want it. Put it that way."

The working number is about half the NFL coaches have a GM's final authority in personnel matters. LeBeau said he thinks Brown's way can work: "I'd like to win a few more games. I'm very confident that we can do it the way that we are structured."

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