Akili wants in competition

5-2-02, 3:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Akili Smith wants to get in on the Jon Kitna-Gus Frerotte quarterback competition and head Dick LeBeau says he will as soon as he's healthy.

The day after Frerotte signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal, LeBeau said Thursday he plans to give him and Kitna the same amount of snaps in preparation for the Sept. 8 opener and will get Smith in on the action once he's cleared to practice. That won't happen at this weekend's minicamp or in this month's workouts.

Frerotte may not get as many snaps in the first few practices because of his unfamiliarity with the playbook, but he will soon.

"When I get back to Georgetown, I want it to be a three-way deal like last year instead of just Kitna and Frerotte," Smith said Thursday. "If it's the same procedure as last year, I think that would be good. But the way things sound, I don't think they think I'm going to be ready and they're not really thinking about me."

LeBeau said Smith is very much on his mind, but he can't make any plans until he knows the state of Smith's rehabbing hamstring and if he'll be ready for the first practice of training camp July 26 at Georgetown College. That should ease Smith, the erstwhile franchise quarterback three years removed from being taken with the third pick in the draft. On Thursday, he reiterated his stance since he was benched Nov. 13, 2000 in favor of Scott Mitchell.

"If they have no plans to give me an opportunity to start, why don't they just get rid of me?" Smith asked. "I know they have to cover themselves (because of his injury), but if in their hearts they really feel like, 'Even if the hamstring is OK, we won't give him a chance,' just get rid of me. Don't let the money get in the way."

The Bengals don't want to cut Smith because not only do they still want to give his unique athleticism another chance to blossom, but they also don't want to take a $4.5 million hit under next year's salary cap if they cut him after June 1.

Plus, LeBeau liked what Smith flashed in last year's pre-season games and in his one regular season start, when he tore 90 percent of his hamstring off the bone on the game's third series.

It looks like Smith may get his wish because like last year, LeBeau plans another equal opportunity derby.

"We want to give them all a chance to get ready to perform in a game because the ultimate decision when you're talking about a quarterback is how he moves the team and how many points he puts on the board," LeBeau said. "That has to come from game competition. You try to get them as ready for that as you can and we will continue to get them as ready as possible to perform at game level."

LeBeau said he might even implement extra snaps so everyone gets plenty of work. Meanwhile, Smith's status, "will be dictated by his medical situation.

"I want to see what our quarterbacks will do," LeBeau said. "I think the last two games we were strong on offense and that's what we want to get out of the quarterback on a weekly basis."

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PAPER LIONS:** Three-time Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon is preparing for his first minicamp of the century with the idea that the Bengals are no different than the 2001 Patriots, the 2000 Ravens and the 1999 Rams and have a shot at winning the Super Bowl.

"On paper, we've got the most talent in the league," Dillon said. "You take the best teams and go position by position and we match up with everyone. On paper, we're great. We just have to get it together and that starts tomorrow. We've got to come out and jell. We don't want to et into an offense-defense thing. Everyone has everyone's back and does whatever we can to help each other."

Dillon says, "I'll go out on a limb," when talking about the new

four-team AFC North and says Cincinnati and Cleveland will contend with the Steelers.

"Pittsburgh is the favorite hands down," Dillon said. "But we're going to make some noise and look out for Cleveland."

Because of his last two contract negotiations, Dillon hasn't been in a minicamp since 1999 and he says it's the best his legs have felt since high school. He's eight weeks removed from arthroscopic knee surgery and he says he'll be able to do everything this weekend.

"Commitment to excellence means continuing excellence," said strength coach Kim Wood. "This guy is the best in the business and he's still working hard to get better."

Dillon has been working with Wood to build up his legs, but he has also found time to tone up his arms and upper body. Dillon doesn't like to use free weights for the 225-pound bench press, but for his minicamp test he fired out 24 reps of 270 pounds on a machine.

"I don't set any goals when I go into a season," Dillon said. "I'm not into that stuff. I figure if everyone plays hard, we're going to have a good year. The only goal is the Super Bowl."

INJURIES PERSIST: The Bengals lost four tight ends to injuries last season and they still can't get out from under the cloud four months later with minicamp set to convene Friday night. Sean Brewer, the new starter who missed all last year with a groin problem, could miss the entire May workouts with an unrelated hamstring injury.

Thursday's MRI revealed Brewer has a mild hamstring tear, which trainer Paul Sparling says should keep him on the shelf three to four weeks. It's a setback for a tight ends corps that has two NFL starts and none among the top two in Brewer and third-round pick Matt Schobel.

Schobel is still coping with a hamstring injury he suffered last year at TCU. The Bengals expect him to practice, but not to run the 40-yard dash.

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