5-3-02, 7:35 p.m.
Updated: 5-4-02, 1:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson, the Bengals would-be Pro Bowl right tackle, arrived at Paul Brown Stadium Friday for the start of his seventh season wondering if he would have a fifth different Opening Day quarterback.
"If we ever want to jump the hurdle, somebody has to emerge out of the pack and be the leader," Anderson said of a quarterback soap opera that has raged since Boomer Esiason went to TV four years ago.
"Not just this year, but over the next five years I have in football," Anderson said. "It's kind of sad that we're back with the same thing we had last season."
They are back to splitting snaps among the leading candidates, with incumbent starter Jon Kitna being challenged by the newest Bengal, Gus Frerotte. Akili Smith's rehabbing hamstring has shelved him from the race until at least training camp, leaving a Frerotte-Kitna battle this month.
Frerotte thinks a starter will emerge by the Sept. 8 opener against San Diego, but Kitna hopes it is sooner than that.
"I'm hoping to find out shortly," said Kitna when asked what spring would be like at PBS without a quarterback controversy. "Hopefully we can put this thing to rest quickly here and for the rest of my
contract (three years), hopefully there won't be any more controversy because we're going to have a great year. A great year usually puts to bed controversy."
As the Bengals convened for their first meeting of the season Friday night, everyone had an opinion in the debate "Is a quarterback competition good or bad for a team?" Anderson found himself on both sides.
"After last season, we need a competition," said Anderson of a year in which the Bengals averaged eight points in a seven-game losing streak. "I think it's good in some aspects.
"Not all of it was Jon," Anderson said. "The receivers have to grow up and make plays for him. Down the stretch they did, but in that seven-game stretch we had, it was embarrassing being on offense. It starts with everyone. The offensive line, the quarterbacks. . ."
Frerotte spent his first hour at PBS as a Bengal huddled with quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson as he got acquainted with the playbook. He hasn't been a regular starter since Esiason 's last season of 1997, but he's comfortable with head coach Dick LeBeau's pledge that the practice snaps will be 50-50.
"My mindset is I'm the guy," Kitna said. "That's the way I have to be. Last year, I felt like here in minicamp and in training camp I wasn't the player I should have been. I was too worried about the competition."
Maybe things will be different this year for Kitna if a Friday night omen comes through. It just so happened he walked into PBS with three of the wide receivers (Peter Warrick, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh), a group he had an up-and-down relationship with last year.
"I'm so excited to see these guys. The first people I saw was those three," Kitna said. "I know the fans are tired of hearing it, but for me I'm excited because I just think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
THOMPSON A NO SHOW:** Starting free safety Lamont Thompson became the earliest Bengals' holdout in recent memory Friday because of a dispute over injury protection.
"Until he gets the same written agreement that the Bengals gave their first-round pick and that other teams have given our other rookies, he won't participate in anything there until he has a signed contract," said Mike Sullivan in explaining why the second-round draft choice didn't show on the first day of minicamp.
The Bengals don't feel they have to put anything in writing because they believe the collective bargaining agreement requires the team to bargain in good faith, but Sullivan disagrees. The club has also given its word to Sullivan that they will negotiate in good faith if Thompson gets hurt.
Asked why he doesn't send Sullivan a letter supplying the protection if it is just a formality, Bengals President Mike Brown said, "It's on principle. It's stupid. It's silly. It's redundant. It's not necessary. We're already obligated. Any outside agreement would be superceded by the CBA. We're going to fulfill our obligations and this is one of them as dictated by the CBA."
The other side believes the CBA covers only the minimum salary tender of $225,000 and not the signing bonus. But the Bengals believe it covers the
entire contract. Of Sullivan's ten clients other than No. 1 pick David Carr in rounds one through seven, the 10 other teams have given written injury protection.
But Brown says he'll pay Thompson his slot in the second round whether gets hurt or not, just like he did Eric Kattus in 1986 when the fourth-rounder broke his collarbone in minicamp.
"In 30 plus years here, he's the only rookie who got hurt in minicamp and we weren't sure he was going to be ready for training camp," Brown said. "We waited until the guy taken in front of him signed and the guy taken after him signed and we gave him the slot.
"With the rookie pool being essentially the same as it was last year, it's not too hard to find out what a guy is going to get," Brown said "They just have to look at the guy from last year."
It used to be the Bengals' policy not to give any unsigned player injury protection, but that has changed recently and this year's first-rounder, Levi Jones, has it.
"We have in the past done it with first-round picks," Brown said. "I think you'd have to say it's because of their concern with the size of the bonus."
Also not present at the first meeting were guard Victor Leyva (attending a White House reception honoring Mexican Independence), running back Rudi Johnson (airplane problems), and defensive end Jevon Langford (a personal matter).
INJURY UPDATE:** The Bengals not only can't get their starting free safety snaps, but it's unlikely they will get their starting tight end snaps for the entire month of May.
A frustrated Sean Brewer, who watched all last year on injured reserve with a groin injury, doesn't think the Bengals will let him practice for the next few weeks with a mild tear in his hamstring.
Brewer is fighting them all the way after injuring the hamstring back in workouts in California, but he understands why the club fears he could pop it for a much more serious injury. Still, that does nothing to ease the frustration of last year's third-round pick who has spent his career watching.
Look for this year's third-round pick, Matt Schobel, to get the bulk of the snaps as the starter at tight end. . .
Wide receiver Darnay Scott, who has been experiencing pain in his left shin, walked into camp with his X-Rays of the leg he shattered 18 months ago. Scott is expected spend much of Saturday getting checked out by doctors.
Scott said the pain doesn't prevent him from running and it doesn't cut down his speed because he only begins to feel it when he tries to come to a stop.
NO ONE's FOOL:** Yes, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau topped last year's Elvis act. This year he opened the Friday team meeting by running into the auditorium dressed in a Superman costume complete with cape and crashing through a banner that read, "Bengals 2002 Super Bowl."
Then he proceeded to dance and lip sync to Little Richard singing, "A Slipping and A Sliding," to an applauding, if not stunned room.
When the music and clapping died down, LeBeau told them he picked the
song because of the words, "Gonna be nobody's fool."
"We're going to be nobody's fool," LeBeau told his team. "We're going to win and we're going to be successful. That's the way I want you to carry yourselves. With an air of expectation. We will succeed."
In LeBeau's second minicamp as head coach, the opening gig is now officially a tradition. It has become his not-so-subtle way of hammering home his theme for the season. This year it's pretty clear. He's sick of the Bengals being viewed as league doormats and he hopes his players are, too.
"I've got some other things to say," said LeBeau as he left the meeting to his assistant coaches. "But not while I'm wearing a Superman costume."