5-31-02, 3:10 P.M. BY GEOFF HOBSON
Gus Frerotte's next-to-last pass of the month-long voluntary camps got picked off Friday when cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn stepped in front of an out pattern, but the interception belied how he and Jon Kitna oversaw a much improved offense during the May drills at Paul Brown Stadium.
"We looked better on our worst day than we did last year at this time on our best day," said head coach Dick LeBeau. "We threw it well. They threw it real well on some days. I wasn't paying attention who was throwing it. I was watching how the routes were executed, how we looked as a team. We made a lot of progress."
He'll be watching when training camp opens July 25 at Georgetown College, when the Kitna-Frerotte competition commences. Or is it Frerotte-Kitna?
"It's like I've been telling you guys
all along," Kitna said this week. "My whole approach is this is my job. That's how I feel. It's how I have to compete."
Asked if he senses he'll get half the snaps in training camp even Kitna is No. 1 on the depth chart, Frerotte said, "I better. . . .That's all you want. Fair snaps. Fair competition and the best guy plays. I think the guy who produces is the guy who is going to play."
The consensus is that Frerotte had a productive camp because he showed his big arm, but that he is behind Kitna a bit on the playbook. For example, when Frerotte threw the interception, he was concentrating on a new wrinkle implemented in the no-huddle offense and didn't get enough air under the pass.
"That stuff is going to come," Frerotte said.
Kitna impressed the people he had to impress his receivers with how much more comfortable he looked in his second straight May with the same scheme and personnel. Kitna, who began fighting for his job last season by emphasizing the importance of stability, thinks the point was made at this camp.
"I'm not saying I was right or anything," Kitna said, "but it shows what can happen with repetitions and getting to know each other. You just have to look around other places to see that."
Kitna thinks the press got the wrong idea about his relationship with the receivers late in a troubled year.
"It was a misconception that we didn't get along," he said. "We hung out as much as possible. I don't go out or do some of those things, but I was always down there by their lockers, hanging out, shooting the breeze. It wasn't that we didn't like each other, but we had to grow together."
And the only reason Kitna stopped taking the offense to dinner some Fridays before games was because of what happened one week.
"We lost to San Diego," he said.
EXTRA POINTS: Trainer Paul Sparling said Friday that the hamstring injuries of quarterback Akili Smith and cornerback Rodney Heath have progressed well enough this month that they both will likely be ready to be on the field for the first practice of training camp on July 26. . .So should cornerback Artrell Hawkins as his torn PCL heals. Defensive lineman Glen
Steele, who had arthroscopic surgery after he tore knee cartilage in the spring's first practice on May 4, returned this past week, 24 days after the injury. . . After practice, the Bengals waived rookie defensive tackle Derrick Johnson, a college free agent from Kentucky. . .
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes could never get back from Brazil and missed the last week of voluntarys. Although Spikes criticized other players for not being at the practices, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner understood the problem and appreciated Spikes staying in touch. He left Duffner two messages Thursday.
"He went down there on some kind of special ticket and he had trouble using it trying to get back on it," Duffner said. "When you go out of the country, stuff like that can happen."
Head coach Dick LeBeau was unconcerned.
"It's the first one he's missed," he said. "I was very happy with the overall attendance."
EYES HAVE IT: After practice, wide receiver Peter Warrick belted out the first few lines ("I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,") of Johnny Nash's '70s hit in honor of his new contact lenses.
Warrick wore them for the first time Thursday and Friday and said he could tell the difference when the ball was high in the air. Things were still a little blurry Friday as he got used to them, but he thinks they'll make a difference.
"I caught a few punts and I wasn't losing it when they got high over my head," Warrick said.
TIGHT FIT: Tight ends coach John Garrett may have been the busiest guy at PBS this month with seven players at his position. Three things emerged: Rookies Sean Brewer and Matt Schobel are going to battle for the No. 1 spot in a camp competition, H-Back Nick Williams showed he is capable of also playing a traditional tight end on the line, and converted linebacker Chris Edmonds can probably expect more time on offense at Georgetown.
"He's got as good as hands as anybody and lots of speed to warrant keeping him at tight end and developing," Garrett said. "Nick is just such a big man (270 pounds) and such a good athlete. He showed he's not going to have much trouble covering up blockers. What we have to decide is how much we'll use him as a fullback and as an H-Back."
Garrett sees a huge scrum developing on the roster at the No. 3
spot. Williams? Edmonds? Brad St. Louis can long snap. "And Kirk McMullen came back a very improved player. He's a better runner and a better receiver than last year and he's been through the fire."
What he likes about Schobel and Williams is their ability to know instinctively who to block even if they're not sure of the call:
"They're savvy football players," Garrett said. "You got to love guys like that."
As usual, Williams drew heat from the coaches for showing up at 279 pounds four weeks ago. They want him at 265 and he's 272 now. He pulled a hip flexor running sprints on the first day, but he's not sure it was because of his weight.
"I can run and I can run all day long. I think that was kind of a fluke thing," Williams said. "I haven't been 265 since I was a junior in college. I've played at 270 since then and I think that's what I am. Yeah, I was a little heavy coming in, but it's off and I'll be working on it when I get home. For a guy who plays multi positions, I got a lot out of this month."