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Bengals' horses look like Broncos

7-28-02, 8:10 p.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _Jon Kitna says he sees himself starting 16 games and leading the Bengals to the playoffs, which he did for Seattle in 1999.

But Gus Frerotte also sees himself as the starting Opening Day quarterback against the Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium Sept. 8 ("I can't look at it any other way") and he has also led a more recent playoff charge. He shepherded the Broncos to a 4-2 record during November and December in place of the injured Brian Griese as Denver qualified for a 2000 wild card.

And he says there are some very real comparisons here with that 11-5 Broncos team of Rookie of the Year running back Mike Anderson.

"I think our running game is better here," Frerotte said after he took a Sunday morning run here at Georgetown College following the morning skills session.

"Mike ran really well. He ran his but off in Denver, but Corey (Dillon) is proven. He's broken records and has done some amazing things. When you have a great running game like this, there's no reason you shouldn't be one of the top passers in the league," Frerotte said. "With the addition of Michael (Westbrook), who is a big guy, and all our other receivers here are quick and can run. I think we have that mix. We just need that veteran leadership. Guys pushing each other and don't let anybody get their head down."

Frerotte provided about 600 yards of leadership Sunday after the Bengals finished their 7-on-7 drills. He ran the length of the field six times by himself holding a stopwatch so he

could clock his time (about 17 seconds) and make sure he wasn't resting more than 20 or 30 seconds after each one.

"He's showing why we brought him here," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who at times wasn't pleased with his club's approach to the job last year. "He's got a strong arm and he knows how to play this game. He's a professional. Our approach to things, our professionalism this year, is better . The addition of some and the deletion of others have helped that."

No one questions Kitna's professionalism. While Frerotte ran, Kitna threw to any running back or receiver he could find to get in some extra throws. But they do have concerns about his arm strength.

After three practices, Frerotte's arm has won the day but it will take more than that to win the job. Bratkowski will look at you like you have three heads if you ask who is ahead in the quarterback derby.

"Come back to me in about a week," Bratkowski said. "It's just too early."

Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of player personnel, won't take questions until at least after the first pre-season game.

"Quarterbacks don't start separating themselves until they know they're going to get hit and they have to react," Tobin said. "Take a hit and then get back up and make a play. You can't tell until the bullets start flying.

Frerotte has been throwing bullets while showing that his off-season shoulder surgery is a success. Since falling off the end of the earth after going to the Pro Bowl six years ago, Frerotte is again enjoying the hunt. He's back to being excited about each camp practice knowing a shot at his first Opening Day assignment since 1998 is on the line.

"The first year in Denver I thought I was going to get a chance to compete and it wasn't true," Frerotte said of the 2000 training camp. "I've been there sitting and watching and it's not fun. But I got a lot of snaps and I've learned a lot over the last few years."

He turns 31 Wednesday and there is gray creeping into the training camp beard. He knows the chances are running out. But he's also at a ripe old age when it comes to NFL quarterbacks.

"Sometimes those are the guys that emerge to be top quarterbacks in the league," Bratkowski said. "How long did Rich Gannon wander around the league? Steve Young wandered around for a few years. He's got a good arm. He's got a quick release, he doesn't expend much energy, and he gets it in there with some velocity."

Westbrook, who played with him in Washington for four seasons, has been telling anyone who will listen that Frerotte is deadly when given time to throw.

He has completed 60 percent of his passes in his last 14 games. A Bengals quarterback has hit that number exactly twice in the past 17 seasons while getting the bulk of a season's snaps: Current quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson in 1984 and Neil O'Donnell in 1998.

Frerotte has been around. Washington for six years, Detroit for one, Denver for two and he says, "We have as much talent as any other team out there. If we're smart, we play together, don't make mistakes, we should be able to make a good run."

In Denver, the Broncos alternate their two-a-day workouts with one-a-days. The Bengals go once a day every day, so Frerotte has adjusted. He has also noticed that the Bengals install their scheme slower than Denver.

"I'm used to a different schedule and (the morning walk-through) isn't really physical," Frerotte said. "It isn't really taxing. You can get a lot more work out here, or go inside to ride the bike. We're getting plenty of work. They put things in a little slower here and I think that's good. Guys need to learn it. They need to figure it out before they come out on the field and try it. Every team has a different philosophy. It doesn't matter how many practices you have a day. It's how you practice, how the guys learn."

What Frerotte is learning is that Bratkowski runs an offense similar to what he had in Washington. Pretty much, except for terminology and the pass protections, particularly for calling a three-step drop or a seven-step drop.

"They put a lot on the quarterback's shoulders and they should," Frerotte said.

The big question, of course, is whose shoulders? Kitna says his.

"I felt like he was the starter here last year and he s earned the right to say that," Frerotte said. "I feel like I'm the guy who is going to take it away from him. I have to picture myself starting. I have to picture myself as the guy everyone can depend on."

It's nice to be able to say that again after throwing a little bit more than a season's total passes (622) in the last four.

"The juices are flowing again," he said. "It feels great."

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