8-13-02, 9:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ When it comes to naming an Opening Day quarterback, Jon Kitna hopes it happens this coming Monday. Which would be eight days sooner than when he got the nod last year.
"I'm all for that," Kitna said Tuesday. "I've said it before, the earlier the decision is, the better. It's important for the team to know who the guy is and what he can do."
Gus Frerotte starts Saturday night in Indianapolis, a role in which Kitna took a slight edge over him during last Friday night's pre-season opener. But Frerotte has been impressive enough in practice that some say he has the edge. At the very least, it's a dead heat, the coaches are saying nothing and could decide to name the starter Aug. 26, instead, and Frerotte jokingly asked a reporter what he thought because, "they're not giving us a clue."
Frerotte threw an interception, but he also threw a touchdown pass against the Bills. He says he's looking for a mistake-free outing because, "that's what this offense needs."
Kitna didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he didn't throw any of the interceptions that hounded him last year, either, in crisply converting four straight third-down passes on his touchdown drive. He says his training camp has been "awesome."
"If it is that soon, then it's going to come down to how we play in Indy," Frerotte said after Tuesday's practice. "That means you have to prove yourself in a quarter. Sometimes that's hard to
do, sometimes it's not. It depends how the ball bounces. (The sooner the decision) the sooner you can gel, the sooner you can work exclusively with the first group. But if they make the decision now or later, whatever they want. I feel good about my situation."
So does Kitna, bidding to become the first Bengals quarterback to start back-to-back Opening Days since Jeff Blake started the 1995-97 seasons. He clearly has a better rhythm with his receivers this year and against the Bills he ran the playbook like a textbook.
"It's been awesome so far. Every day has been a blessing," Kitna said. "All I can do is give my best and let them decide."
Kitna thinks the extra eight days a quick decision would bring is going to help the quarterback better prepare for the 2002 long haul.
"I've done better with that this year," Kitna said, "because last year I put so much energy into winning the job I wasn't ready for a 16-game season."
Complicating matters is the injury-riddled receiving corps, although Danny Farmer (hamstring) might be able to surprise them by playing a series or two. T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ankle) is doubtful, Michael Westbrook (wrist) is out, and Ron Dugans (Achilles) is nicked but probable. Frerotte, bidding to become the Bengals' fifth Opening Day quarterback in as many years, will have the same guys Kitna has in the second quarter.
"You have to play smart and take care of the ball," Frerotte said. "That's what this offense needs. Mistake free and if you make a mistake, you have to able to overcome it and come back."