It could have been Mitchell

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Absolutely, Scott Mitchell watched the Super Bowl. At least part of it.

And, yes, that's exactly what the Bengals quarterback thought as he watched Trent Dilfer quarterback his way to Disney World.

"Sure, I was thinking it could have been me," said Mitchell Monday. "I was there. They paid me a lot of money to be their quarterback and I lasted a game and a half. There's no question that given time in the system, I would have had my time. I could have done what he did. No questions about that."

But Mitchell, a free agent again at age 33, is looking for a team where he'll get a decent shot at competing for the starting job. So he was far from depressed by what happened to Dilfer.

"All those guys in the championship games," Mitchell said, "Dilfer. Kerry Collins. Rich Gannon. Are you kidding? That gives a guy like me hope."

Mitchell is hoping he fits into a new Bengals' offense coordinated by former Steelers receivers coach Bob Bratkowski.

But he doesn't know, and it won't be known until Bratkowski sits down with head coach Dick LeBeau to discuss the quarterback position. Mitchell said he'd like to sit down and talk to Bratkowski before the new coach makes a call.

Mitchell also indicated he won't be inclined to return if the season starts like it did last year and Akili Smith is the unquestioned No. 1.

"I like Dick and I would love to play for Dick," said Mitchell, who went 2-3 in starting five of the last six games of the season after Smith got benched.

"I'd come back if I was given a fair shot to play," Mitchell said. "I would want to have a chance to compete. It would be hard to come back under the same circumstances."

LeBeau has sent signals he's going to give Smith every shot to succeed in his third season, which means Mitchell may be back doing what he was doing after Baltimore cut him last season.

Looking for work.

Or maybe he'll have a job if LeBeau and Bratkowski want a quarterback derby. LeBeau insisted Tuesday that "whoever the quarterbacks are," Smith will be in a "fair and open competition."

"I think this is all yet to be determined because Bob Bratkowski is going to have a significant say in this with Dick," said Bengals President Mike Brown.

"I can understand why Scott wants at least a chance to come in on an even basis because when he played, he did enough to make us competitive. It's still to be discussed because we want to see what Bob's needs are."

Anything has to be better than 1999 for Mitchell. That's when Brian Billick was a rookie head coach in Baltimore and

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Mitchell first saw the offensive coach trying to come to grips with a defensive team.

"He just said it this week how long it took him to adjust," Mitchell said. "They kind of say one thing and it turns out different. He told me that we weren't going to be very good right away and that we had to be patient and let our defense win games."

Which is funny, because that's what they let Dilfer do the last three months. Six quarters after the Ravens gave up a third-round pick and fifth-round pick for Mitchell, Billick benched him in favor of Tony Banks.

After watching Dilfer throw for 153 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in missing a bit more than half his passes in Super Bowl XXXV, Mitchell was happy for him and some of his former teammates.

"He played the way they wanted him to play," Mitchell said. "I'm sure he knew he could make some plays, and he didn't make any bad plays."

But Mitchell said the Ravens' once-in-a-decade defense didn't just show up this season. It had to grow from last year, when rookie cornerback Chris McAlister was raw, Rod Woodson was continuing his transition from cornerback and safety, and tackle Sam Adams had yet to arrive.

"They had some nice additions and the big thing was they didn't have any subtractions and no one got hurt," Mitchell said.

Asked if middle linebacker and Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis is the Ravens, Mitchell said it's a no-brainer.

"There's no question whose team that is," Mitchell said. "That's his team. There's no doubt. And that's how they play. Like him. Tough and intense."

Mitchell has admitted showing up in Baltimore at 265 pounds didn't help his cause. He was still so big when the Ravens played the Bengals in the next-to-last game of the ''99 season that when Mike Brown saw Mitchell in pre-game warmups throwing while wearing a jacket covering his number, Brown marveled at the offensive lineman's touch.

But Mitchell has already started working out this offseason. He's currently in California working with his personal trainer, still at about the 245 pounds the Bengals demanded via the one-year deal he signed back in March.

"Last year I was just trying to lose weight," Mitchell said after a half-hour run and before his session with his trainer. "Now I want to get more specific."

Which is what he would like to hear from the Bengals soon.

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