Akili no for go?

8-22-01, 7:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Injury is having a hand in the Bengals Quarterback Challenge.

Make that an arm.

Akili Smith said he has very real doubts he'll be able to play Saturday against Buffalo after not throwing for the eighth straight practice Wednesday.

Which could be the death knell for his hopes to overtake Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell for the starting quarterback's job that head coach Dick LeBeau plans to fill after the Bills' game.

"Maybe I'll wake up Saturday morning and I'll be able to throw," said Smith, still feeling the affects of the Aug. 10 hit on his throwing arm. "But I've got to find a way to play if this is going to be it."

The Bengals' front-liners are going to be on display in the Paul Brown Stadium season opener that features a new

Kentucky Bluegrass field. LeBeau indicated Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon could carry about eight times for his first attempts of the year and that he would like to see the first team at least start the second half if the game is going right.

LeBeau said it is not definite Smith is out, "but if the game were today, he couldn't play." Mitchell is getting the start but the injury has forced LeBeau to move out of his pre-season rotation, which would have had Smith going second and Jon Kitna third.

"I think simply because of the injury situation, that Kitna will be the second guy in there," LeBeau said. "We'll see how Akili's shoulder comes along. He's still a little sore. He's making progress, but I think the prudent thing to do would be to wait and see on that. I think you can anticipate Jon Kitna going in second."

More signs pointing to Smith possibly not playing is that LeBeau said No. 4 quarterback Scott Covington has a good chance of getting his first action in a pre-season game this year, but "it's not written in stone."

But maybe there is writing on the wall. Smith said if he couldn't go, his status depends on how Mitchell and Kitna play.

"If they struggle, maybe the door is still open for me," Smith said. "If they play well, I don't know. But I know the first guy is going to have to play well because there will be two hungry quarterbacks behind him."

Covington has thrown the past few days after being shelved by a sore back.

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