Mitchell still in mix

8-6-01, 7:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ With Akili Smith expected Tuesday to be named the starter for Friday's game in Detroit, Scott Mitchell hasn't forgotten about the Bengals' pre-season plan to give the three quarterbacks in the race each a start.

And head coach Dick LeBeau hasn't either. Asked if the player who doesn't start Friday will get the start Aug. 25 against the Bills, LeBeau said, "That would be the plan. It's not written in stone, but that's something we're looking at."

Mitchell, who completed two of his four passes during his stint in the third quarter Saturday night, admitted Monday he didn't think it was much of an opportunity to show his wares.

"Not at all," Mitchell said. "I think to really see what I can do, you have to put me in there with the ones. Playing with the second and third team isn't going to tell

you anything about what I can do. Unless they've already made up their minds."

But LeBeau indicated he hasn't made any decisions and would like to give Mitchell the same chance he gave Jon Kitna last Saturday and will probably give Smith this Friday.

"I think it's the only fair way to do it," Mitchell said. "If they're going to do what they said they were going to do."

Mitchell said until he works with the first team, "I don't think you can rule me out."

Mitchell said he wasn't concerned that he had only four passes in his 22 snaps.

"It's not so much throwing more," Mitchell said. "I think if I played longer I might have gotten into some kind of rhythm. That's the hard thing when you're playing with different guys all the time. It's hard to get a feel for what people are going to do."

Mitchell, who led the Lions to three playoffs in the mid-90s, isn't disappointed he might not get the start in Pontiac. He said he got that all out of his system when he played the Lions at Paul Brown Stadium last preseason.

"I don't think it matters that much to me any more," Mitchell said. "It's just been such a long time ago and so much has changed up there."

THIS AND THAT: RB Brandon Bennett could be out eight to 10 weeks if he decides to have his torn flexor tendon in his left pinky surgically repaired. But trainer Paul Sparling said Bennett could play without it if the finger is taped like it was Saturday night against the Bears.

The injury wasn't believed to be a factor in his first-quarter fumble. Bennett, who missed Monday afternoon's practice to get the finger examined, practiced Monday morning. . .

There was no progress on the Justin Smith front Monday. The picks unsigned in front and back of the No. 4 Smith No. 2 Leonard Davis and No. 5 LaDainian Tomlinson are also still out. . .

DE Kevin Henry is expected to be cleared for his first Bengals' practice Tuesday. Henry, a free-agent from the Steelers, had arthroscopic surgery on his elbow to remove bone chips three weeks ago. . . TE Sean Brewer (hamstring) is doubtful for Friday's game. . .OLB Takeo Spikes (ankle) didn't work Monday, won't go Tuesday, but he is expected to play Friday.

BOSS ONLY WANTS WINS: With some wondering if Akili Smith is free-lancing a bit too much with his running out of the pocket, Bengals President Mike Brown made it clear he doesn't care how Smith moves the ball.

"I want to see him succeed and for a quarterback success is defined as winning

games," Brown said. "He got a boost off what happened Saturday. "He went in and did well and that had to make him feel better about himself. It made everyone feel better about him."

Brown thought Smith threw the ball well enough, given his passer's rating is now 95.8 after a 4-for-5 night good for 35 yards with a long of 18.

"If he can play like he did Saturday," Brown said, "he can be effective."

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