Smith bruised

8-12-01, 3:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ A disappointed Akili Smith, fearing he's lost his one chance to start the regular-season opener after Friday's outing, won't practice the early part of this week while he rests his bruised throwing shoulder.

Smith, who should be ready for the next game, isn't sure when he took the blow during the 27-24 victory in Detroit. But he said his arm was hanging when he woke up Saturday morning.

"I don't know if it was one of the five sacks or not," Smith said Sunday. "It's like a stinger in your shoulder that won't go away. There's no possible way I'm throwing with it hurting like this. I need this thing to throw with."

Smith undergoes an exam Sunday afternoon, but trainer Paul Sparling thinks he'll be able start throwing again before the Bengals break for bye weekend this Thursday. Sparling says it is not related to the pain Smith felt from overthrowing in the spring.

Also hurting is Smith's outlook, which got sacked along with him five times in Friday's 23 snaps.

But Smith has no regrets turning down a chance to go back in the game in the fourth quarter and giving Scott Mitchell the chance to win it. Smith had a long conversation with him a few days ago about Mitchell's time in Detroit and thought it was only right.

Still, Smith also knows it might have been him leading the winning drive.

"It was my only chance to start and it's gone now," Smith said. "I got sacked. I got hit. I barely overthrew Darnay (Scott) on one and we might have had a big play if Chad (Johnson) kept running.

"I hope not," said Smith when asked if he considers himself out of the running. "The way I feel, it could be because I'm not going to get another chance to start."

But offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski isn't prepared to start doling out the majority of practice snaps to Mitchell and Jon Kitna

because he says the decision-making process is ongoing and Smith is still in it.

When Smith he's healthy, he'll be taking the same amount of snaps as Kitna. Since Mitchell is starting the next game a week from Saturday, he'll be getting one more snap in the 10-play sessions that will remain 4-3-3.

"We think the only fair way to do it is to make it a decision based on three games," Bratkowski said. "Take all the data you get from that and then make the decision. We're taking it as a whole and then coming up with a decision."

What Smith has going for him is that Kitna underwent the same pressure in Chicago and also wasn't able to generate any points. But what he's got going against him is that Kitna didn't take any sacks while Smith appeared to some observers in Detroit to be looking at the pass rush instead of looking for the late option down field.

"The biggest problem we had was five sacks in the first quarter," Smith said. "That's unheard of. I don't want to start pointing fingers at the linemen because it's on all of us. I have to get rid of the ball. I think a couple of times my hands were flinching underneath the center and they were going off that. I've got to work on that. We've got to work it out as an offense."

Smith fumbled twice, burned a timeout at the line, and took two-delay-of-game penalties, things that Mitchell and Kitna haven't done.

And there is some concern that Smith is struggling with calling the right formations and adjusting to calling the pass protections. But Bratkowski said all three quarterbacks have had some problems running a game.

"There are things they all did well and things they all need to get better at," Bratkowksi said. "Every quarterback has to know those things and this is a new offense and everyone is going through learning it. They've all had some mistakes there."

Smith knows he missed a few formations Friday. But he also thinks he's getting better with them, as well becoming more and more comfortable with the new offense. He feels good about backing the decision to let Mitchell play in the last quarter.

"I talked with Mitch for a long time about a week ago," Smith said. "And he was telling me about how they booed him for five years. Even Coach LeBeau was saying he'd kind like of like to leave Mitchell in there so he could show them. No regrets."

He thinks he'll be in the rotation second against Buffalo. Beyond that?

"I don't know," Smith said. "We'll have to see."

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