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Passing game lifted

8-3-02, 6:20 p.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _After Saturday's annual intrasquad scrimmage, wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson revealed the sweat-soaked Superman T-Shirts they wore under their pads.

It's too bad they didn't buy kickers Neil Rackers and rookie Travis Dorsch the Super T-Shirts they bought for the rest of the receiving corps. Rackers (from 48 yards) and Dorsch (from 41 yards) missed field goals that cost the offense a victory that the defense stole, 12-7 with 12 unanswered points here at sweltering Georgetown College.

But the kicking gaffes couldn't spoil the first legitimate passing effort in a scrimmage since, well, how about the Wilmington College days?

"I can't even remember us scoring a touchdown ever in this game," said Bengals offensive captain Willie Anderson in his seventh year and fifth scrimmage. "It's encouraging how the first offense was able to come out and move the ball down the field like that.

"(The pass offense) looks like night and day," Anderson said. "We have two quality guys in Frerotte and Kitna. I think the games are going to decide who plays in there. It's a tough decision. I don't think we ever had two quarterbacks look this good in the scrimmage."

Kitna threw one touchdown pass, a six-yard flip to fullback Lorenzo Neal, and completed five of eight passes for 40 yards in 14 plays. Frerotte hit four of seven passes for 46 yards in 13 plays as the offense drove 142 yards on the first three series, but could only get the seven points because of the missed field goals.

And Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau pronounced after the scrimmage that he still didn't have a

starting quarterback. But he did have a hot little derby heading into Friday night's preseason opener in Buffalo.

"That's better than we looked even during last season," said backup running Brandon Bennett, whose 47-yard cutback run set up the day's lone touchdown. "Guys made plays."

Guys made plays even without wide receivers Peter Warrick (strained quad) and Danny Farmer (hamstring) as an estimated crowd of 5,800 roasted in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Houshmandzadeh continued his run as the best receiver in camp with two catches for 22 yards, Ron Dugans emerged from special teams obscurity to catch two balls for 30 yards, and Johnson fried cornerback Robert Bean on what would have been a 30-yard touchdown bomb down the right side if it wasn't overthrown.

Kitna also matched Frerotte for an overthrow, just missing Houshmandzadeh from 31 yards away after he had baked rookie free-agent cornerback Reggie Myles on a double move.

"If it wasn't 105 degrees or whatever it was, I think both Gus and I would have hooked up on those touchdowns," Kitna said. "It makes guys legs' a little heavy."

Houshmandzadeh and Johnson confirmed they would have had them under normal game conditions, where they would have been resting on the sidelines between series.

"I'd say we took about 25 plays in a row," Houshmandzadeh said.

It gave Kitna and Frerotte each a chance to flash their strong suits. Kitna, who is riding his knowledge of the scheme, found Neal floating out of the backfield on the same play they hooked up for a touchdown in Pittsburgh last year. The insiders say Frerotte's arm strength makes him the no-brainer, but asFrerotte said, "Jon scored a touchdown and I didn't get in."

"I completed, what? Three or four passes," Kitna said. "I didn't light it on fire or anything, but it was effective."

Along with his strong arm, Frerotte has a good feel for when to leave the pocket, or step up in it. He did that on second-and-14 from the offense's 31-yard line. He stepped up from the rush and threw a 16-yard laser to Dugans near the sideline.

"I wanted to go to him anyway," Frerotte said. "I got a rush and had to move a little bit. I tried to throw it a little short so he could come back and get it and he did a good job."

Frerotte's fire-and-fall back mentality was evident when he didn't bat an eye throwing to receivers not used to playing with the first group, like Houshmandzadeh and Dugans.

"You just got to let it go," Frerotte said. "If you got a place to go with it, let it go. All you can do is throw, you can't catch it, too."

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski liked the play of some of his young receivers, but he also said, "We've got a long way to go. . .We could have had three touchdowns (if the balls aren't overthrown). It's only a couple of feet, but a couple of feet is a couple of feet."

No doubt one of the plays Bratkowski had in mind came when Frerotte had to throw ball away because tight end Sean Brewer didn't adjust to the right route when Frerotte noticed two defenders blitzing from the same side.

"I think Brew was just excited he might get the ball and get a chance to go downfield on a pass route," Frerotte said. "We talked about it. He knows it. When they have two coming from that side, you have to get rid of it."

But Houshmandzadeh, Dugans, and Johnson, all in their second or third years, showed Saturday they've got a grasp on what has to be done to get open and catch it.

"Now we know," Houshmandzadeh said. "Last year, everybody was a rookie on offense except for maybe Kit. We know what we're doing now. That's a big difference when you know what to do instead of getting out there and thinking you can just go out there and play."

Kitna said the offense took a big step Saturday and it should have.

"We have nobody that's new, we haven't put anything new in," Kitna said. "We're where we should be and I'm glad that's where we are."

Remember how far the passing game was down after the 16-0 loss in Baltimore last Dec. 23, and Kitna and the receivers weren't pleased with each other? Before Kitna walked off the field Saturday, he waited near the receivers' huddle for Dugans. He wanted to tell him he made a nice leaping catch over the middle for a 14-yard gain when Kitna faced a third-and-eight.

"I didn't get a chance to tell him (during the scrimmage)," Kitna said.

Now that they're on the same page, they'd finally like to turn it.

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