Kitna to start

7-30-01, 10:35 p.m.

Updated: 7-31-01, 1:10 p.m.

Updated: 7-31-01, 2:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Jon Kitna is the Bengals' starting quarterback for Saturday's pre-season opener in Chicago, but that is about all head coach Dick LeBeau allowed at Tuesday's news conference here at Georgetown College.

LeBeau wouldn't say in which order Kitna, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith and Scott Covington would work But he did say Kitna might play more than a quarter. LeBeau also said Corey Dillon might not play after sitting out last Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage as the Bengals try to keep their Pro Bowl running back fresh for the regular season. **

BATTAGLIA BACK AUG. 24: ** If Saturday was the Super Bowl, Marco Battaglia says he could play a few days after getting arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a small cartilage tear. But Saturday is merely the pre-season opener in Chicago, so trainer Paul Sparling has earmarked his return for the Aug. 24 pre-season home opener against Buffalo at Paul Brown Stadium.

"The bye week gives him some extra time," said

Sparling of the Bengals' off weekend of Aug. 16-18. "And the second pre-season game is in Detroit (Aug. 10), which is on turf, and our game is on grass. So that makes sense."

The Bengals want no part of the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., which has been a house of horrors for the Bengals in the recent pre-season past. It's where running back Ki-Jana Carter ripped up his knee on the third play of his career in 1995 and it is where long snapper Greg Truitt (knee) and safety Kelvin Moore (neck) suffered career-ending injuries in 1999.

**

A LONG ONE:** Jim Steiner, the agent for Justin Smith, said Monday, he thinks the holdout is going to be a long one because of the parties' inability to come to terms on guaranteeing Smith's second signing bonus that would be exercised in the second year.

"It looks like it's going to be good and long," Steiner said. "No agent in the country

who had the fourth pick in the draft would sign a contract in which there were no guarantees to what equates to the signing bonus. We can't proceed unless we have guaranteed salaries."

The sides are dug in. Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn reiterated the club's position that it doesn't want to set a precedent for guarantees. Even if the guarantee vanishes when the second signing bonus option is exercised.

"We even have a provision in there that says we will exercise the option. That's what we thought they wanted," Blackburn said. "Even if the guarantee goes away, it's the beginning. The next time the conditions to make it go away (will be harder). It's turning down the wrong path when you don't need to. There's no reason."

The Bengals argue there's no reason for a guarantee because he'll get that money in two years. Blackburn thinks it is " ludicrous," to think the Bengals would cut him that early in his contract.

"That's all well and good," Steiner said. "But if he's going to get the money, then why not guarantee it? What it amounts to is a one-year look at a guy if they don't want to pay him that second bonus. And a team that could absorb that hit on the first bonus is team like the Cincinnati Bengals that always has room under the salary cap."

Steiner says the Bengals are guaranteeing $5 million, which is probably the first signing bonus. That means if they cut Smith after one season, it would count $4 million against the cap in 2002. That's something the Bengals have a track record of avoiding.

Since the advent of the rookie pool in 1994, the Bengals have never cut a first-round pick before his sixth season in the NFL. That's when they cut Ki-Jana Carter. Defensive end Reinard Wilson, a career backup, is heading into his fifth season.

**

INJURY UPDATE:** FB Kenneth Williams, who received a concussion in an off-field incident over the weekend, has been shelved for the year in the Non Football Injury category. . .DL Kevin Henry (elbow) is out of Saturday's game. . . Questionable is LT John Jackson (hyperextended knee), FB Kenny Williams (minor concussion), WRs Ramondo North (oral surgery), Ron Dugans (hamstring), Malcolm Johnson (ankle) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring). . .WR Danny Farmer (hamstring) and CB Rodney Heath (knee) are probable.

**

THIS AND THAT:** There's a huge roster battle brewing at tail back. If the Bengals can only keep three, who are the two behind Corey Dillon? Brandon Bennett is proven, no one on the roster has Curtis Keaton's quicks, Rudi Johnson was drafted in the fourth round because the Bengals weren't sure they had 30-carry-per-game guy backing up Dillon, and Michael Basnight is healthy again.

Keaton had the big intrasquad scrimmage (7-33), but Johnson has impressed, too, with his ability to pick up blitzes and a hard-charging style that fits the club's zone-blocking scheme: "Corey's quicker than I am. He can run away from you," Johnson said. "I just like to hit you and keep the chains moving."

Even though Johnson has shown to be an effective blocker and catcher (skills Keaton is trying to show after a year of learning), running backs coach Jim Anderson isn't ready to have Johnson learn fullback so he can swing between both: "I want him concentrating on being a running back." . . .

Speaking of Dillon, he flashed some mid-season frustration during Monday's practice when he tossed his

helmet a few times. Head coach Dick LeBeau chatted with him, but didn't seem to calm him down much. LeBeau said to ask Dillon the reason for his angst, but Dillon waved off a reporter after practice.

"I think Corey and I will probably talk together several times this year," LeBeau said. "That's one of the reasons I love him. He's an emotional player. He plays every down, he plays hard, he's one of our strengths. I haven't seen (the new contract soften him). He didn't look like a soft guy when I was trying to talk to him. That's good. I want him involved."

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