Mitchell keeping open mind

1-22-02, 5:00 a.m.


MOBILE, Ala. _ With the injury to quarterback Akili Smith, the agent for Scott Mitchell says his client is keeping his options open with the Bengals.

"I would think that impacts him in some way and we're waiting to see what happens," said Tony Agnone as he watched a Senior Bowl practice here Monday.

The Bengals have been lukewarm about Mitchell, a free agent, returning for a third season. They continue to suggest they will find their third quarterback in April's NFL Draft. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson, and Bengals President Mike Brown shared a sideline with Agnone as scouts, agents, coaches and NFL personnel people watched the North team prep for Saturday's all-star game.

The Bengals are not only keeping an eye on Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner with a possible second-round choice, but also other late-round possibilities. Kittner is playing for the North this week. Another prospect here this week and possible first Draft Day pick for NFL teams is South quarterback Rohan Davey of LSU.

Brown did acknowledge Monday that Smith's torn hamstring has

muddied Mitchell's situation. But all signs point to the Bengals going to training camp without him.

"We just don't know if Akili is going to be ready by then," Brown said. "We think he's going to be, but we just don't know for sure. Certainly that's a new factor in the mix. The safe way to go would be (to sign Mitchell). Some times the safest way isn't the best way to go because you're left with an extra guy when you really don't need one at a position."

But Brown said a year ago at this time it also looked like Mitchell wouldn't re-sign with the team and he ended up signing Draft Day weekend. After losing a close camp battle with Jon Kitna, three of Mitchell's 12 passes in Cleveland were intercepted in his only appearance of the season. Mitchell looked like he was going to get the Dec. 23 start in Baltimore until he suffered what amounted to a season-ending rib cage injury. He had expressed displeasure at the Bengals late in his frustrating season.

"He feels very good about what they told him and they followed through on what they told him," Agnone said. "He has no problem with that and he still likes Coach (Dick) LeBeau. He was totally frustrated. He was ready to go out and play and then he got hurt. In practice of all things just throwing a pass. How much more can you take? He probably wanted to take off his helmet and use it to hit his head 15 times."


THIS AND THAT:** Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau and Brown plan to meet Tuesday here and discuss the vacancy left by the resignation of safeties coach Ray Horton. They are still deciding whether to fill the job, promote from within, or make another hire. . .

Indications here from NFL sources are that Horton won't sign with the expansion Houston Texans as some thought after his Jan. 7 resignation. . .

At least one on-line report has linked former Bengals tight ends coach Gary Moeller with the club after he was fired last week as defensive coordinator of the Jaguars. The Bengals have high regard for the former Michigan head coach and Lima, Ohio native whom has just as high regard for living in Cincinnati. But they had no comment on the reports.

EXPANSION LIST: The NFL has asked teams not to release until Friday their lists of five unprotected players eligible for next month's expansion draft even though the names are due in New York Tuesday. Bengals President Mike Brown continued to insist Monday they won't use the list as a dumping ground for high veteran salaries or potential starters.

Charley Casserly, the Texans' director of football operations, agrees with Brown that Houston is going to shy away from players with big contracts.

"You have to figure that if the players were worth the contract, teams would keep them," Casserly

said. "There are a number of teams that would like to stack the expansion draft with a lot of high money players. We're going to have to see what that all means. The thing you don't want is dead money and have to pay a guy for a contract that you're not going to use. If he's going to play out the contract, then he's worth it."

Casserly doesn't expect to build his team out of the Feb. 18 draft ("Teams historically don't. Cleveland clearly didn't"), but he also knows salary-cap casualties might yield a few surprises. One thing he does expect is that the Bengals won't expose quarterback Akili Smith.

"There was speculation he would be there, but the statement has been made he'll be protected," Casserly said.

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