QB timetable stepped up

8-12-02, 7:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals would like to speed up their timetable to name an Opening Day quarterback. The ideal scenario allows head coach Dick LeBeau to tap his man following this Saturday night's game in Indianapolis.

That's where Gus Frerotte and Jon Kitna reverse their roles of last Friday night, with Frerotte starting and Kitna playing the second quarter and Akili Smith again working the second half.

Or, another likely scenario is using the next game against the Saints on Aug. 24 to allow Kitna and Frerotte to play each a quarter and half to decide the issue for the Aug. 29 pre-season finale.

Whatever, throwing Smith into the mix this late in the evaluation process is not high on offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's list at the moment.

"Having another guy start a third game, that will be difficult," Bratkowski said here after Monday's practice. "I don't know how likely an option that is. I would think not as likely as the other two, but again, nothing has been decided yet. It's the kind of thing you have to see what happens."

The Bengals waited until after the third pre-season game last year to name Kitna their fourth Opening Day starter in four years. They clearly would like to speed up the process.

"We want to do it as quickly as possible while also giving everyone a

fair chance," Bratkowski said. "We may not be able to do it so soon as that and maybe we go looking for into the third game, which is the game the starters usually play into the second half."

Bratkowski said there is virtually no separation between Kitna and Frerotte, although, "Jon probably had a little bit of the upper edge in the game, but on a day-to-day, in and out at practice, which you also take into evaluation, it's very close."

Smith sensed early which way the wind is blowing even though he led the Bengals to their winning points last Friday night in Buffalo. He thinks he needs to be "unbelievable," to get back into the mix and get a start, and while Bratkowski doesn't rule that out, it doesn't fit the timetable.

"He's doing exactly what he should be doing," Bratkowski said. "He's preparing himself for the future. He's preparing himself for the eventuality when it happens, when his time comes. It could be this year, it could be next year, whenever. He's preparing to capitalize when it does happen. He can't worry about what's happened to him in the past or what's happening to him now."

By the way, Smith returned to practice Monday after missing the last half of Sunday's workout when his surgically-repaired hamstring tightened. **

TWO CUT:** On Tuesday afternoon the Bengals released two college free agents on offense: Wide receiver Chris Archie (Central Michigan) and Notre Dame fullback Jason Murray.

INJURY UPDATE: Bad news on the LOLB Steve Foley front. He has been ruled doubtful for Saturday after aggravating the groin/hip injury he suffered early in camp and took him out of the scrimmage and opener. He is to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam. . .

CB Robert Bean (inflamed sesamoid bone) is questionable because his left toe is hobbled. . . Backup LB Armegis Spearman (hip) is questionable . . .WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ankle) is doubtful. . .WR Ron Dugans (Achilles tendonitis) is probable. . .RB Brandon Bennett (ankle) is questionable.

**

SLIM PICKINGS:** Bratkowski doesn't anticipate wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh playing Saturday night: "Not with an ankle (sprain) on AstroTurf." Which leaves the Bengals without three of their top six receivers with two quarterbacks to evaluate.

The good news is that one of them, Michael Westbrook, is striving to play at least one series in the pre-season finale with his broken left

wrist. He says he'll start catching in a few days and that he'll use a partial cast so his wrist doesn't bend all the way back.

"I've been in the league a long-time," said the eight-year veteran after Monday's practice. "That's all I need. One series, take a couple of hits, a coupe of blocks, catch a couple of balls and be done with it."

But the Bengals group of three college free-agent receivers and NFL Europe veteran Khori Ivy (who will be the fourth receiver) are going to be loaded with snaps against the Colts Saturday.

"It's not an ideal situation," Bratkowski said. "Some of the young guys are going to make mistakes and those are the kind of mistakes that can make a quarterback look pretty bad and it doesn't give him a chance to get into a rhythm."

But it gives second-year wide receiver Chad Johnson, the Bengals' speed merchant, a chance to make a dent. He'll start at split end opposite flanker Peter Warrick (or they could switch), instead of coming off the bench in a three-receiver set, he'll move to the outside, Warrick goes in the slot, and Ron Dugans (also hobbled with Achilles tendonitis) comes off the bench to play the outside.

Johnson has bounced back with a solid two days of practice and has caught everything in sight.

"That's all Chad needs is consistency," Bratkowski said. "It's a cardinal sin for any athlete to let things bother you out there. It got in his head a little bit, but he's had a good couple of days back into it."

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