Smith moves closer to start

12-12-01, 2:20 P.M.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Quarterback Akili Smith moved closer to his first start of the season with the Bengals' plan to give him the starter's snaps Wednesday and Thursday, the two heaviest days of practice.

Jon Kitna said he won't try to throw those two days with the sprained middle finger on his throwing hand, but head coach Dick LeBeau wouldn't rule out playing Kitna even if he can't practice Friday.

"We'll see how Jon's finger is Friday," said LeBeau, who indicated there would be no clear-cut decision until game time in the Meadowlands Sunday against the Jets. At one point, LeBeau said, "Jon is hurt and Akili is probably going to play."

LeBeau said here has been no decision on whether Smith is the starter even if Kitna is healthy in

response to the Bengals' five-game losing streak in which Kitna has thrown two touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Smith, 3-12 as a starter, hasn't started since a 48-28 loss to Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 26, 2000. He hit just 10 of 20 passes for 129 yards against the Steelers in giving him a final passer's rating of 52.8 (three touchdowns, six interceptions) with just 1,253 yards in 11 starts in which he completed 44 percent of his passes. In 12 starts, Kitna has thrown for 2,219 yards on 143 more pass attempts with a 54.6 passing percentage that includes 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Smith did throw a touchdown pass that last start against Pittsburgh. But since he threw two TDs in his NFL debut on Oct. 10, 1999 in Cleveland, he has thrown three touchdown passes in his last 341 attempts.

"From a selfish standpoint, I would really like the opportunity to play in these last four games whether it's a quarter or a series or whenever Kitna decides to come back when his finger is finally healed."

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