10-24-02, 12:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' coaches may have Akili Smith as the No. 3 quarterback, but management is maintaining it hasn't closed the door on his future in Cincinnati.
With two years left on his contract, Smith wants to know what the Bengals have planned for him. If it is just as a No. 3 quarterback who gets no practice snaps, then, "I want out," he said. "I've gone two steps backward the last two years."
With speculation heightening that new practice squad quarterback Joe Germaine may get a start late in the season, Smith said, "If he goes ahead of me, I figure that means I'm gone."
But on Wednesday, Bengals President Mike Brown made it clear he hasn't given up on Smith and that his next chance may not be long in coming. With Gus Frerotte seemingly playing out a one-year deal and Germaine learning the system, Brown wouldn't comment on the speculation that Smith is next in line if the Bengals' losing ways continue the next few weeks with Jon Kitna.
"I don't know how it's going to pan out, but what I'm telling you is I haven't given up on him," Brown said. "I think he has a future in the NFL and it could be here and could happen sooner than people think."
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau wouldn't get into why Frerotte is
backing up Kitna and Smith is No. 3, but he too agrees that Smith very well could have a future here.
"It's the coaches' call," said Brown of the depth chart positions. "They make those determinations on what they think is going to give the team the best chance to win. We're trying to find something that works."
Brown has come under fire for the signing of Germaine, which critics say confuses a quarterback position that has already been crippled by uncertainty and instability. But Brown says he won't stop looking for an answer until someone plays consistently.
"You can get a guy from almost anywhere and other teams have," Brown said. "Look at (Tommy) Maddox in Pittsburgh. He's winning for them 10 years after he got drafted and four years after he left the league. In my mind, you've got to keep looking."
Frerotte sounds more and more like a guy who expects to be looking for job, which could be soon if the Bengals activate Germaine in the next month or so and cut a quarterback to make room.
""I'm just kind of floating around, like one of these leaves falling off the tree," Frerotte told The Associated Press Wednesday. "Just waiting to land."
INJURY UPDATE: All six wide receivers should be healthy enough to play for the Bengals Sunday, although one will probably be inactive. And it may not be Michael Westbrook, who was inactive in the last game. Westbrook, who tweaked a hamstring last week, is improving daily and has looked better in practice lately. . .
Bengals TE Sean Brewer is still questionable after testing his sprained knee in limited fashion Wednesday. . .
Bad news for the Bengals. Titans WR Derrick Mason (shoulder) practiced Wednesday and it looks like he can play. Last year, he had a career-high 186 yards in a loss and a 101-yard kick return in a win, and has a whopping 764 all-purpose yards in the last three games against the Bengals. The good news is he's not expected to return kicks. . .
GOOD BREAK:** If there is anyone under more heat than Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau, it's special teams coach Al Roberts. But he got a breath of fresh during the bye weekend when a friend took him to watch his son play quarterback in a Hyde Park youth league.
"I wanted to see the little guys have fun. I wanted to see people have fun playing football," Roberts said. "I wanted to see coaches having fun coaching football and I got that done. The quarterback had tears in his eyes, after the game, but when the coaches offered pizza, the loss was over.
"I'm trying to plant a seed with my guys and I hope it blooms by Sunday," Roberts said. "You've got to have fun."
FISHER GOES ARCHIVING:** Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, as embattled as Bengals head man Dick LeBeau, has turned to the archives this week to guard against a letdown for his 2-4 team against the winless Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
"We'd like history not to repeat itself," Fisher said during Wednesday's conference call with the Cincinnati media. "Everyone's very familiar with what happened the last time the Bengals were 0-6. Denver followed us (into PBS) and they put up 407 yards rushing against a pretty good defensive football team."
On Oct. 22, 2000, Bengals running back Corey Dillon rushed for a league-record-278 yards against the Broncos' second-ranked rush defense,
which ended up allowing the fifth most rushing yards of all-time in a game. Fisher said his Titans are now, "very familiar," with that foray into the NFL Record and Fact Book.
And, after snapping a four-game losing streak before they went into last week's bye, Fisher says his team is familiar with the Bengals' circumstances.
"The difficulties the Bengals are having can be corrected. It's obvious on tape," Fisher said. "They can be corrected during just the course of a bye week or over a half. There are things like some drops, some missed opportunities for some big plays. Or there's a bad decision by a quarterback, or something. But it's not necessarily what the opponents are doing, it's what the Bengals are doing and that's exactly what we've gone through to this point."
LeBeau said the Bengals focused on themselves during the bye and Fisher did the same with the Titans.
"Teams improve by turning to themselves," Fisher said, "and not by looking down the schedule and see who they can beat. It's about improving and eliminating mistakes."