Quarterbacks snap to

7-23-01, 8:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Two consistent observations have emerged about the Bengals' quarterback quandary during the first three days of practice:

  1. Jon Kitna looks to be in the lead with Scott Mitchell usually poised and accurate and Akili Smith flashing in spots as he grapples for consistency.
  1. It's too early to say anyone is in the lead.

"I haven't even talked to Bob about it yet,' said head coach Dick LeBeau of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "The way we're doing it (by sharing the snaps), you have to let it play out some. Right now, it's so early we just want them to learn where the dining hall is."

It's certainly much too early to count out Smith ("Let's face it, it's going to come down to the pre-season games,"), but it's not so early that Smith isn't trying to get noticed as all three prepare to each start a pre-season game.

Smith, the No. 3 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, is pitting his legs against the experience of Kitna's and Mitchell's 104 combined NFL starts compared to his 15.

"One of the things I'm trying to do to separate myself from Kitna and

Mitchell is trying to show I can run and throw," Smith said. "If it's not there, I'm gone (running). I'm looking for whatever edge I can get. It's too early to tell where you are. There's so many different things going on. Different centers. Different receivers."

Mitchell, who led the Lions to three playoff berths in the '90s while Smith was playing minor-league baseball and going to junior college, looks to be reaping the benefits of his 11 years in the league as he adapts to Bratkowski's scheme.

"There aren't many surprises for me at this point in my career," Mitchell said. "I've been exposed to this system before and I like it. I'm comfortable in it."

Kitna, who took the Seahawks to the playoffs the year Smith was drafted, gives himself a B-minus or B so far.

"It's not where I want to be a week from now, but the first three days are just about trying to catch up," Kitna said. "Nothing you can do working out as a quarterback gets you ready for what we go through here. After that third day, the soreness goes away and your arm starts to come back."

Kitna felt tired Monday and floated some balls. But he also floated a 60-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Chad Johnson.

On the last play of the day, Smith showed some frustration when he tucked the ball and ran instead of throwing down field. But he said LeBeau told him, "Good patience, good anticipation getting out of the pocket."

"I could have got 10 or 12 yards on that play, but I wanted to show then I can throw the ball down the field," Smith said.

Smith felt he was OK Saturday and better Sunday, but Monday he said, "I took a half step back today with the new plays constantly being put in and the different receivers and linemen. Once I have the opportunity to study everything and see it all in my mind, I should be OK."

Smith should get the same amount of chances in Bratkowski's dizzying rotations designed to share the snaps among the three.

On Monday, it went like this: Kitna took three snaps in the 3rd-and-11 drill, as did Smith while Mitchell took four. In the blitz drill, Smith had four snaps while Kitna and Mitchell had three each. In the last 20 plays of practice, it went Mitchell eight and Smith and Kitna six each.

"We'll keep dividing it up," Bratkowski said. "You can't go off of anything the last three days because the next three days might be totally different. We're going to grade every play, every pass, and note why it was completed or not completed. So we've got a ways to go."

LeBeau said the starter for this Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage could be the player who grades the highest at that point. He'd like to give each player a start, "because you want to see how they lead a team, what kind of command they have."

But that's an early plan. If one of the three takes command earlier, that could alter things.

For now, Kitna and the rest are going a snap at a time. What happens next week is more important than this week.

"We haven't even gone back over the plays we put in (Saturday)," Kitna said. "When we do that next week, that's when you'll begin to see the consistency."

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