12-20-01, 9:20 p.m. Updated:
12-21-01, 2:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Why not Scott Covington?
He showed up Thursday three months after getting cut Sept. 10 and his showing in practice got people recalling that his work in training camp wasn't that far off from the three quarterbacks who made the team.
"He's never really had a chance and if Jon is healthy he probably won't again," said Bengals President Mike Brown of starter Jon Kitna. "Scott's got a lot of what you need. He's a fast, mobile guy with a good arm. I've seen a lot of guys like that who when they get their chance surprise people."
At least Covington is in better shape than the other Scott, Mitchell. Mitchell, who may have started in Baltimore, has been virtually ruled out of the game by trainer Paul Sparling with his rib cage injury on his right side. The best the left-handed Mitchell could throw Thursday was three five-yard floaters in the locker room and he couldn't throw a fourth.
Mitchell is on a week-to-week basis, but he indicated again Thursday
that his Bengals career is probably over. Any chance he had at sticking probably went out the window with the injury. When Mitchell was asked about the Bengals' plans, Kitna openly wondered at the next locker if the Bengals had a plan.
The Bengals did have a plan when Kitna led them to a 4-3 start. But things changed when a)he threw 10 interceptions in the next six games, b)he sprained the middle finger on his throwing hand 11 days ago, c)Akili Smith suffered a season-ending hamstring injury 26 plays into his comeback, d)Mitchell blew out his rib cage just when it looked like he would have a chance to start this week.
"If I was going to play because Jon couldn't play because of his finger and they thought it would give us a better chance to in then, yeah, (the injury) did come at an inopportune time."
So Sunday has become a three wrist band game for Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
Written on one band is the expanded package of plays for Kitna. Written on another band is the streamlined package for Covington, who stepped off a red-eye flight from California Thursday morning to practice for the first time in more than three months. The final wrist band has the really streamlined package for the emergency third quarterback, wide receiver Peter Warrick. Warrick is taking a handful of handoffs.
"We're fortunate because we've got quite a bit of carryover with Scott," Bratkowksi said. "We've also got a package for (Warrick) so he can at least call the play in the huddle if necessary and get us to the line of scrimmage.
"Some things (Covington) feels comfortable doing and some he wouldn't be," Bratkowski said. "Obviously it would be a lot smaller game plan."
After Thursday's practice, Kitna said his injured finger felt the best it's been since he injured it against Jacksonville.
After Thursday's practice, Covington said he didn't miss a beat despite not getting picked up by an NFL team after he was released by the Bengals for the second time in two weeks.
"No one got hurt this year. It was just one of those years where there was no attrition at quarterbacks," Covington said. "If I had been a running back, I would have been called. . .At this position, it's hard to sign a guy and put him on the roster. I'm sure there's some form of (salary) cap restrictions."
Covington signed for the one-year minimum, which will be pro-rated over the last three games. But he has had supporters in the locker room who think he deserves more of a shot since being drafted in the seventh round out of Miami of Florida in 1999.
One of Covington's biggest boosters was former tight end Marco Battaglia, released 11 days ago. And wouldn't you know that Covington got Battaglia's old locker?
"I was unhappy," said Covington of getting released after being inactive for the regular-season opener. "I know you're at the mercy of what they need to do for the team. I've remained silent on my opinion. They aren't worth a whole lot, so I just kept my mouth shut and do what I'm told. I think people respected me for that."
Covington says he would have no problem playing Sunday. He knows enough of the playbook and he's been working out twice a day in sunny southern California, where he's worked for a trust company and coaching a high school quarterback. He took every scout team snap as well as six or seven with the first team Thursday.
"It felt fine," Covington said. "I've got pretty good recall of the offense."