Bengals eye Kitna target

4-03-01, 6:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals plan to take a rare look at a restricted free agent Thursday when Seattle tight end Itula Mili visits Paul Brown Stadium.

The 6-4, 265-pound Mili, who turns 28 the day before this month's NFL Draft, has a big fan in Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna after he caught 28 balls for three touchdowns in a backup role for Seattle.

"He's an awesome talent," said Kitna, the former Seahawk who signed with Cincinnati last month. "He can threaten the middle of the field. He's a tough match up for nickel (cornerbacks) and linebackers because he's got the speed to run by you. In my mind, he's over a pretty devastating knee injury. It would be exciting if we could get him."

Brian Treggs, Mili's agent, said Tuesday night the Bengals are the only team currently talking to his player. He's attracted to the club not only because of Kitna, but also because of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Bratkowski was Seattle's offensive coordinator when the Seahawks took Mili in the sixth round of the 1997 draft.

"We have to sit down and decide what's best for him personally and professionally," said Treggs of his client, whose roots are in Hawaii. "He likes Seattle, but he has a very good comfort with the Cincinnati organization because of Kitna and Bob Bratkowski. He's excited about the visit."

The Bengals also think Mili has recovered from the reconstructive knee surgery he needed after getting injured playing for BYU

in the 1996 WAC championship game.

The surgery wiped out his rookie season in '97, so he's a three-year restricted free agent. Which means the Bengals have to give up their sixth-round pick if they agree with Mili on an offer sheet that Seattle chooses not to match.

If the Bengals wait until the last day of the restricted free agency period to reach a deal, which is April 16, the Seahawks have until April 20, the day before the draft, to match.

"We think he would improve our pass catching production," said Bengals scout Duke Tobin. "He's a very good receiver who has enough speed to challenge on the outside and separate (from defenders) underneath. Plus, he worked well with Kitna."

Mili didn't get as much ink as the man who started ahead of him in Christian Fauria. But because Fauria had trouble staying healthy, Mili played about as much as him this past season and ended up catching as many passes (28), more yards (288-237), and TDs (3-2). His longest catch was also more than twice as deep as Fauria's, 34-16.

The Bengals are showing a clear desire to improve their depth behind starter Tony McGee. They hope to re-sign their third tight end in free agent Steve Bush, but they also have already signed Jason Gavadza, a Kent State product who was Pittsburgh's sixth-round pick last year.

Other than setting up the Mili visit, all was quiet on the free-agent front Tuesday. The Bengals spent much of the day preparing for their April 13 pre-draft open house, when they bring in selected college players for physicals.

The biggest name on that list is Michigan wide receiver David Terrell, a player the Bengals are mulling with the fourth pick in the draft despite a stress fracture in his foot.

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