Kitna likes Bengals over long haul

4-7-03, 8:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Jon Kitna fully expects the Bengals to draft another franchise quarterback in the next few weeks, be it Carson Palmer or Byron Leftwich. But that hasn't prevented him from wishing he can finish his career in Cincinnati.

In fact, if the Bengals are looking to extend his contract beyond the one that ends after the 2004, the club's incumbent No. 1 quarterback would eagerly listen.

"I would love it if they wanted to do an extension," said Kitna, after emerging from Paul Brown Stadium Monday and his first team workout of the offseason in preparation for head coach Marvin Lewis' first minicamp this weekend.

"This is where I want to be. This is where I feel I've been called to be by God. I'm not into moving my family around. I really think this is going in the right direction. . ."If you can't get excited about what's going on here, then you've got some bitterness."

These have been sweet times for Kitna. Yes, the Bengals fiddled with the numbers a bit and gave him his 80-percent playtime, whisking a $1.6 million arrow into the heart of a locker room looking for signs of commitment. But the best part of his offseason came two weeks ago when wife Jennifer gave birth to their third child and second son, Jalen.

It's the kind of event that gets you thinking about the future. After going through Lewis' offseason program, after working in the renovated weight room, and eating the overhauled cuisine, Kitna on Monday remembered the not-so-distant past when teammates looked upstairs for support.

How long ago is Dec. 30? It was Kitna who had been among the most vocal and now he is one of the leaders of a new regime.

"Management did their part. They did what was needed to be done," Kitna said. "Now it's up to the players and coaches to get this thing going in the right direction."

Although Kitna's drive for 80-percent play time jockeyed with Dick LeBeau's job security for the headlines in the last month of the season, he said not many players mentioned the bonus Monday.

"It was more than the financial statement. It was a statement saying, 'You're our guy,' and that's what I've been looking for ever since I came into this league," Kitna said. "I really think like I'm the quarterback for this team and I feel now that this is my team."

But Kitna understands why the Bengals are so seriously considering Palmer and Leftwich (Leftwich and Palmer?) despite awarding him the $1.6 million bonus. And he still wants to be here for the long haul.

"I'm sure they're going to draft a quarterback," Kitna said. "It's a good quarterback draft. It's hard to pass up that kind of talent at quarterback. It's not every year they come out like this. And you need three quarterbacks. I understand it."

Kitna says he has no problems being a mentor to a young guy. He remembers how good Warren Moon and John Friesz were to him in Seattle and he still wishes he had listened more back to them more back in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

"But I was a hard head on some things," Kitna said. "I thought I knew the best way. I'll help them. That's going to be no problem with me."

Yet he won't just hand them his job. The kid, no matter who it is, will eventually have to deserve it.

"I don't care who it is, that's just the way it is in the NFL," Kitna said. "If the guy plays better, he plays. That's my attitude. Whether they take a guy in the first round, second round, college free agent, or a guy that hasn't played in eight years, I have to play better than that guy."

Kitna, who turns 31 in September, is excited again. There is the new child and the new coach and 45 players (by his count) in the weight room in early April.

"Is the town excited?" Kitna asked. "I want to see this town get excited for football again. There's a lot of work to be done, but hard work is good work. We want the town to be excited. I think the town was excited (at the beginning of) last year. We let ourselves down. We let everybody down. I'm very excited for this weekend."

During the day Monday, his teammates treated him as if he had just road-tested the newest Mercedes. "What about the weight room?" "What about the big attendance?" "What about the workouts?" Kitna wanted to be a little cautious.

"It's great," he said. "The weight room is nice. It's not a dungeon. It's fresh. The coaches are positive. They talk with you. But they're working guys hard. It reminds me of stuff we would do with (Mike) Holmgren's staff in Seattle.

"But this is what everybody else is doing," Kitna said. "Some of these guys who haven't been anywhere else haven't seen this. They haven't seen 45 guys in the weight room. But it's great."

After 30 years, seven seasons in the NFL, four head coaches, two controversial campaigns in Cincinnati, and three children, it looks like Kitna finally has what he has always sought.

The No. 1 job until someone beats him out.

"I think we're going the right way," he said.

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