8-15-01, 3:10 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ They think it was one of the wide receivers who asked Ken Anderson Tuesday if he could get the ball that far.
Anderson, the 52-year-old Bengals quarterbacks coach with the 20-year records and ageless right arm, snapped back.
"Don't worry about me, just run your route," Anderson told the kid. So a '6' route was run, a 16-yard in pattern. And as receiver Ron Dugans said, "Kenny put it on the numbers."
Anderson turned back the clock and turned up the tempo here at Georgetown College during a padless practice Wednesday that could have had all the intensity of a family picnic.
The Bengals were down to one healthy quarterback, Scott Mitchell. Three receivers, Darnay Scott (foot), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (foot) and Damon Griffin (hamstring) were also out. Wives, girlfriends, and kids were poised on the sidelines to greet the players for a night off during a week there is no game for which to prepare.
But Anderson spiced it up. He jumped into the fray to make sure Mitchell wouldn't overthrow with Jon Kitna (back spasms), Akili Smith (bruised throwing shoulder) and Scott Covington (sore lower back muscle) on the shelf.
Chad Plummer, the wide receiver grinding to make the team, also helped and drew effusive praise from Anderson and head coach Dick LeBeau for making no mistakes. The former University of Cincinnati quarterback took 10 snaps in the defensive period after catching a touchdown pass from Anderson earlier in the session.
"Never thought about catching one from him," Plummer said. "But now I can say I have."
Akili Smith also helped when he handed off in some
of the drills to relieve Mitchell and Anderson.
Anderson, the Bengals' all-time leading passer, began practice by throwing one-on-one routes, then took some shots into the end zone on goal-line situations, and then went 4-for-5 in a seven-on-seven drill. Then he came off the field and denied he had interest in becoming the fourth different starting Bengals quarterback in the fourth and final pre-season game Aug. 30 against the Colts.
"I wanted the league minimum," Anderson said, "but they said that was too much."
But LeBeau couldn't put a price on what he had just viewed. LeBeau was around when Anderson led the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI and to the playoffs the next year in 1982 when he completed an NFL-record 70.55 of his passes.
"How many teams can turn to a NFL MVP to get them through a rough time at practice?" LeBeau asked. "Kenny can still throw it. He looks great."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, whose father Zeke was a NFL quarterback for 14 seasons, wasn't real surprised.
"These guys can always throw a ball. When they first picked up a ball they could throw and my father is 70 something years old and he can still just pick it up and throw it.
"Kenny looked good," Bratkowski said. "Chad serviced the defense and Kenny stepped in and took five throws to help out Scott during his heavy time and give him a break. But I didn't think his conditioning was good. He looked out of shape to me."
Of course, all of these things were straight-face jokes. But there are those in the organization who shake their head whenever they see Anderson throw because it reminds them how long they've gone without a consistent, accurate passer.
Anderson almost always wins an accuracy game he plays with the quarterbacks. Standing about 10 yards apart, each tries to deliver the ball in an invisible square from the neck to the forehead. The catcher calls it if it is two points or one point.
"Of course I did, I didn't throw any over 10 yards," said Anderson when told he had a high completion rate at Tuesday's workout.
Plummer, who threw for more than 3,000 yards, ran for more than 1,000 and nearly caught 1,000 at UC, took snaps at quarterback for the first time since Denver's 1999 training camp. Drafted by Denver as a wideout, Plummer moved to quarterback and split time with receiver Rod Smith as the Broncos recovered from a retirement (John Elway) and an injury (Bubby Brister).
"Chad Plummer did a great job," LeBeau said. "There was nobody offside, there were no dropped snaps or mishandling of the ball."
When Plummer was playing receiver, he caught an out route from Anderson for a touchdown.
"Kenny didn't look like he lost a thing," Plummer said, "About the only thing was his mobility."
Kitna is due back in limited fashion Wednesday, Covington could be able to work Thursday, and Smith won't throw until the club returns from a three-day weekend on Monday.
That's a relief for LeBeau, who said of the quarterbacks dropping like stocks, "This is a first for me."
That's 43 NFL training camps for LeBeau, who ended practice with three old-school hip, hip, hoorays in honor of the old quarterback.
"(My) drops are bad. The mechanics are off," scowled Anderson at cornerback Artrell Hawkins after Hawkins popped by to tease him that he looked good throwing underneath.
It was another joke with a straight face on a day everyone enjoyed because it wasn't so straight.