8-2-01, 8:10 p.m.
Updated: 8-2-01, 10:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau said before Thursday night's practice that he'll probably stick with the same rotation of quarterbacks in Saturday night's pre-season opener in Chicago.
But LeBeau also said he'll possibly name a different starter for the second pre-season game Aug. 10 in Detroit.
"That's good news for me," said Akili Smith after the first night practice of training camp. "That means the race is still open. Now is when it starts. I'll be able to
run around and do some things I haven't been able to do in practice. I'll tell you, I felt good tonight throwing the ball. I threw some good, tight spirals. I'm looking forward to it."
Smith follows Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell and works ahead of Scott Covington Saturday against the Bears. Kitna is set to work more than a quarter and will be throwing for the most part to wide receivers Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson, a trio scheduled to play the first half.
Receivers Ron Dugans and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, fighting hamstring soreness, were upgraded to probable after practice. Houshmandzadeh is expected to return punts in a rotation with Warrick and Craig Yeast.
The incumbent kicking duo of punter Daniel Pope and kicker Neil Rackers figure to work the first half with challengers Will Brice and Richie Cunningham in the second half. And Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon may not work at all.
LeBeau isn't putting a crushing amount of weight on wins and losses. But he and his players are emphasizing playing well in the games that don't count. The Bengals are saying they would like to win their first road pre-season game in four years.
"We want to win. Whether we win all four games in the pre-season, they're all going out the window when we start playing the championship season," LeBeau said. "To sit here and say it's critical to win four games in the pre-season doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But we do want to win.
"We all have to remember this is a new offense, there's a new quarterback, in many ways it's a new defense, and we've got a lot of new players," LeBeau said. "What I'm interested in seeing us doing is play aggressive, attacking football and playing it for four quarters."
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes wants to play well, "and if you play well, you ought to win and that should give us some momentum for the regular season."
Offensive captain Willie Anderson said his team is preparing for the opener "unusually hard.
"We'll try to win. We want to win," Anderson said. "But how are the rookies going to play? You don't know. But you do want to go out there and put a good game together."
Kitna can't tell you what Seattle's pre-season record was before he led the Seahawks to the 1999 playoffs. Which should tell you something. But he says the pre-season is still a big factor in the big picture.
"Especially for a team like us that hasn't had much success, that has a new system and a lot of young guys," Kitna said. "We need to play well. You've got to have success to get the confidence you need. When we went to the playoffs, it started to click early. In the second or third pre-season game."
Kitna took the news in stride that he probably won't be starting against the Lions next week. That's probably because the Kitna-Mitchell-Smith trio was told at the beginning of training camp all could get a start.
"If it's going to be a fair competition, that's what is done," Kitna said. "Everybody's got an equal shot.'
INJURY UPDATE: OLB Takeo Spikes is probable with tendinitis in his left knee. . .WR Ramondo North (ankle) is probable.
12th OF NEVER: The Justin Smith negotiations are now officially in the stalemate stage. When asked if he had a drop-dead date to sign a deal, Smith agent Jim Steiner said, "The 12th of Never," and said he has no reason to talk to the Bengals until they come up with a way to guarantee what is believed to be the $4 million option of a $9 million signing bonus.
Steiner sent a proposal Thursday night, but the Bengals indicated it still contained the guarantee format and they are still saying privately that they are prepared to go the distance on this holdout because of their stance against guaranteed salaries.
Publicly, they are saying Smith is virtually assured his money (believed to be $10.5 million in bonus and salary) because he just has to be on the team by March of 2002. They ask Steiner to come up with the name of a top 5 draft pick that got cut after one year.
"You know as well as I
do there is a chance that he could have an injury and they waive him and he never gets that money," Steiner said. "This is a temporary, eight-month solution to the six-year restriction on contracts. It's a progressive and advanced way of thinking that other teams around the league are using."
It's believed that Smith, the draft's fourth pick, will take home about $6.5 million in the first year and the Bengals feel it is highly unlikely they will cut him. They also feel the injury onus has always been on the player and never the team and that players can insure themselves against injury.
"We made a major concession by going to the split bonus agreement that the agent requested," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. "It's time for him to get reasonable and come to the bargaining table and end this soon."
Steiner said he merely seeks the guaranteed salaries that have been delivered to the Nos. 3, 6 and 7 picks and that the Bengals shouldn't be worried about setting precedents for guaranteed money.
"None of their points are valid," Steiner said. "The seven-year contract will be back in use next year and the bonus won't have to be split and some of it guaranteed."
The Bengals argue that not all the top picks have guaranteed money, such as No. 8, and 11, and they say they've already offered Smith the maxium number in the rookie pool, the maximum bonus he can get, the split bonus, and $1 million more than the Bengals' last No.1 pick in Peter Warrick.