Smith poised to return

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell didn't practice again Friday with his sprained left knee, but coach Dick LeBeau said his status will come down to a game-time decision Sunday.

Yet after Akili Smith finished the week taking the bulk of the practice snaps, the Bengals have been told to expect Smith to get the call. Word is Mitchell could be healthy enough to play next week against Arizona if he doesn't play Sunday.

"From what we hear, Akili is going to be our quarterback this week," said center Rich Braham after Friday's practice. "I don't think Scott's ready. At least that's what they're saying. I don't see it and Akili is doing all right in practice."

But Mitchell, a week removed from delivering the Bengals' most prolific passing day of the season, said he was encouraged by a few things Friday. A lightweight brace fitted for his knee arrived to protect the sprained medial collateral ligament.

And, for the first time this week, Mitchell could twist and turn his knee ever so slightly to simulate handing off and dropping into the pocket. Mitchell threw crisply on the side Friday, but the key is if he can get into position to throw.

"I wasn't able to turn and try to drop back (Thursday), but I was able to do that today," Mitchell said. "Not at full speed, but at least I was able to do something. It was kind of encouraging. I couldn't play today, but I'm better than I was yesterday and there's still two days to go."

LeBeau said the call is simple to make after he asks Mitchell Sunday morning, "Can you move? Can you set up? Can you throw and do the things you have to do in the game?"

"I don't see that being determined until that point," LeBeau said. "He's getting better every day. We don't think we want to rush him into anything that would retard his chances of being ready on Sunday."

Mitchell can remember leading the Lions to a win a few years ago this week when he didn't practice the week before Detroit won a Thanksgiving game.

"It might be a problem if he weren't a real veteran player who has been a starter most of his career in the league," LeBeau said. "I wouldn't necessarily preclude his ability to play off of that. What would be more important would be his movement skills, watch and see if he's rusty and (if he is) go back with the other guy."

But it looks like the other guy, Smith, is the man again at the moment.

"He got the reps in practice and he looked good," said tight end Tony McGee.

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