4-25-02, 3:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals should have a good idea at some point Thursday if they can get a deal with Broncos backup quarterback Gus Frerotte.
After impressing the Bengals in a brief workout at Paul Brown Stadium Wednesday with his reconstructed throwing shoulder, Frerotte planned to dine with wife Ann and Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau in a meeting that would probably decide if he'll come here as Jon Kitna's backup.
Gus and Ann Frerotte planned to discuss the opportunity on the five-hour drive back to their native Pittsburgh Wednesday night before hooking up with agent Marvin Demoff Thursday. Frerotte indicated his options are down to the Broncos and the Bengals, with Cincinnati's proximity to Pittsburgh seemingly an edge for the Bengals.
Frerotte wants an open competiton for the job. Head coach Dick LeBeau says he'll get one, even though Jon Kitna is the No. 1 quarterback heading into training camp. Frerotte, LeBeau said, would get "every opportunity," to win the starting job because every player has to win a spot.
Whether that's enough of a shot for Frerotte to instruct Demoff Thursday to begin negotiations remains to be seen.
"It would have to be an open competition," Frerotte said after throwing to wide receivers Peter Warrick and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 15 minutes or so. "That's just what I'm looking for. That would be a good situation for
me. I made that clear throughout my whole free agency. I want to play, have a competition, or go back to Denver where I already know the system. . .Competition makes everyone around you better."
Frerotte, who turns 31 in training camp, made one start last season and was 16 of 22 for 161 yards in a 26-23 loss to Kansas City. His overall numbers behind Brian Griese were solid at 30 of 48 passing for 308 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passing rating of more than 100.
But the backup quarterback situation in Denver with Steve Beuerlein is almost as muddied as the backup situation here with rehabbing Akili Smith.
Frerotte was 4-2 as a starter in relief of Griese in 2000, but he hasn't started more than six games in a season since he threw 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games for the Redskins in 1997.
But the Bengals think he's clearly one of the best available guys on a QB market that keeps changing. Just on Wednesday, former Bengal Jeff Blake signed a one-year deal in Baltimore and Shane Matthews was released in Chicago.
The Bengals have always liked Frerotte's career yards per attempt of 7 in eight seasons, which dwarfs a Bengals' contingent that hasn't broken 6 yards per attempt since Blake in 1999. Frerotte's five-year run in Washington included a Pro Bowl in 1996.
LeBeau indicated if Frerotte signed, Kitna would be No. 1, but "every player we take to Georgetown with us will be competing and the best players will play. He would get every opportunity. Jon would be No. 1, yes, but it would be an open competition, the same as everybody is in an competition."
Frerotte and Smith compared off-season surgeries in the locker room. Each had their operations Dec. 26, with Frerotte getting a separated shoulder fixed and Smith having his torn hamstring repaired.
"I totally understand why they're looking at a guy like this," Smith said. "I'm going to be fine. I'll be full speed come the middle of June, but I know they can't take any chances."
Frerotte said he's been throwing full speed for about three weeks after the doctors took a tendon out of his left elbow and put it in his right shoulder. He only threw short and intermediate routes into a stiff wind, the longest of which was about 20 yards, but the Bengals saw enough and Frerotte pronounced himself 90 percent.
"He's still recovering, but the arm strength is there," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "He's got quick feet, he was accurate, he's got a good release and experience. I thought he looked good."
It's pretty much the first time Frerotte has thrown to receivers on the move after a month of bruising his physical therapist while he stood in one spot. He says he's been throwing full speed for three weeks.
"He can throw. He's got himself something," Warrick said, and Houshmandzadeh talked about how Frerotte threw a hard spiral that is soft to catch.
"I felt great. I could have thrown 70 balls," Frerotte said. "I think they just wanted to see what I could do after the surgery and I thought I did OK with that wind blowing out there."
LeBeau oversaw the workout, but the most important part of the trip may have been his driving tour of Cincinnati with Ann Frerotte. She also spent time with Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn in what is a big decision for a family that has three children six years old and under.
They very nearly came here 13 months ago. In fact, about 36 hours after Frerotte wouldn't take a four-year deal believed to be in the $10 million range, Kitna signed pretty much the same deal that can max out at $12 million with incentives.
Frerotte went back to Denver on a one-year contract, but he now has a new agent in Demoff.
"It wasn't right for both sides," Frerotte said of last year's talks with the Bengals. "I said I wanted to take some time (to make a decision) and they moved faster than I wanted."